Health Department gears up to tackle Zika virus

Experts say that the most important thing is to avoid water stagnation to not allow breeding of mosquitoes

Stepping up vector control measures across the State following the detection of Zika Virus Disease (ZVD) cases in Kerala, the State Health Department has asked officials to test samples of suspected cases for Zika after ruling out dengue and chikungunya.

Health Commissioner K.V. Trilok Chandra told The Hindu that officials have been directed to first rule out dengue and chikungunya in all fever cases. “Although we have sounded a high alert in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Chamarajanagar bordering Kerala, surveillance has been stepped up across the State as mosquito breeding can happen anywhere,” he said.

“ASHAs and Health Assistants have been directed to intensify the routine surveillance activity in rural areas and fortnightly surveillance activity in urban areas. Municipal bodies have been asked to ensure effective disposal of solid waste to prevent mosquito breeding in peri-domestic spots,” the Commissioner said adding that travel history or visit of guests will be considered for suspecting Zika.

Similar viruses

Virologist V. Ravi, who formerly headed the department of Neuro Virology at NIMHANS, said dengue and zika viruses are closely related members of the flavivirus genus. Both are transmitted to humans via the day-biting aedes aegypti mosquitoes that breed in small collections of fresh water.

Dengue virus infection can be asymptomatic or can cause symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and rashes. In some cases the disease can be severe, causing haemorrhagic fever and even shock (a dangerous drop in blood pressure).

Zika virus causes a mostly mild disease characterized by fever, rash, joint pain, malaise, headache and conjunctivitis. In adults it can occasionally cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune condition affecting the peripheral nerves, and in pregnant women who have been infected in the first trimester, the virus can lead to brain defects in the developing fetus.

Unlike dengue, Zika is also transmitted through the sexual route. There is also a risk of contracting Zika after blood transfusion from an infected individual.

Dr. Ravi said Zika virus is not new to India and has been circulating here since 1954. However, there have not been any large outbreaks except one in Rajasthan in 2018 wherein 159 people were infected. The first case was detected in Gujarat in 2016, he said.

Senior scientist S.K. Ghosh, who formerly headed the field station of ICMR – National Institute of Malaria Research in Bengaluru, said with the emergence of new vector-borne diseases the focus should be on recruiting more entomologists. “We do not have adequate number of trained entomologists now,” he said.

“It is important that people limit their outdoor exposure, use high-grade mosquito repellents and stay covered during the daytime. People staying indoors should ensure that there is no water stagnation within the premises of their homes,” he added.

Swati Rajagopal, Consultant – Infectious Diseases and Travel Medicine at Aster CMI Hospital, said people with symptoms should get plenty of rest and adequate fluid intake apart from treatment for the febrile illness. The incubation period of ZVD is estimated to be 3–14 days and the symptoms typically last for 2–7 days,” the doctor said.

Typically not fatal

She underlined that there is no need to panic as the zika infection is not typically fatal. “It is important that authorities ensure proper sanitization measures in low lying and crowded areas to restrict the spread of another infection. If left unchecked, in time, along with the third wave of the virus this can prove to be a double whammy for the healthcare sector,” she added.

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