The Government reacted with resentment to a travel warning issued by a US agency about the Zika virus, with the agency since withdrawing and modifying its comments.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) previously put out an advisory, cautioning pregnant women from travelling to India following Zika virus outbreaks in two states last year. The CDC earlier described the virus as “endemic” but has since then relaxed the designation following criticism by the government, which had earlier called for the CDC to “withdraw or modify” its comments.
The CDC has now retracted the notion that Zika is “endemic”, stating instead there is “current or past transmission but no current outbreak.”
Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were the sites of outbreaks last autumn. As the Zika virus can cause birth defects such as microcephaly (causing the brain and head to be underdeveloped) if transmitted to the mother during pregnancy. Hence, expectant mothers were told to avoid Rajasthan entirely. This came despite government insistence that the outbreaks had been confined to certain areas and were under control.
High-level officials were dispatched to affected areas soon after the initial presence of the virus was confirmed. Screening programmes were conducted in areas where infections with the Zika virus were reported, such as Rajasthan state capital Jaipur.
The Centre reportedly provided evidence to reflect that it had successfully contained outbreaks. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director General Dr Balram Bhargava said, “the communication was successful in ensuring modification of the travel advisory.”
The CDC has not ceased to warn of the risks to pregnant mothers and their children, however.
“We do not have accurate information on the current level of risk. There may be delays in detection and reporting of new outbreaks,” the agency said. “Because Zika is a cause of severe birth defects, CDC recommends pregnant women and couples trying to become pregnant within the next three months work with their health care providers to carefully consider the risks and possible consequences of travel to areas with risk of Zika. If you travel, you should strictly follow steps to minimise exposure to and prevent mosquito bites.”