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Zika outbreak continues in Kerala

Mosquitoes. Vector-borne diseases concept. World Malaria Day concept. Zika outbreak concept.
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The Zika outbreak in Kerala continues, with more cases reported in the state already embattled by COVID-19. 

The state detected cases of Zika last week, putting it on alert. As of yesterday, the total case count is nineteen. The state health minister Veena George announced the establishment of testing facilities at the medical colleges in Kozhikode, Thrissur, and the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram in addition to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) unit at Alappuzha. In response to the outbreak, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare dispatched a six-member team to the state. 

“Some Zika cases have been reported from Kerala,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union Health Ministry. “To monitor the situation and to support the state government, a six-member team comprising public health experts, vector-borne disease experts and clinicians from AIIMS [the All India Institute of Medical Sciences] has already been issued instructions to reach there and support the state government in terms of management of Zika there.”

George said “more labs in the state will be provided with testing facilities for Zika virus. We have 27 government labs in the state which can conduct RT-PCR tests and as more test kits reach the state, we will use these labs to carry out tests for Zika virus after getting permission from the NIV.” She also said that surveillance mechanisms are to be scaled up. 

The Zika outbreak in Kerala is not unexpected, according to Chief Minister Pinaryai Vijayan, who noted that the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which causes chikungunya and dengue fever also causes the Zika virus. “In view of reporting of Zika Virus Disease (ZVD) in the neighbouring state of Kerala, it is crucial to intensify the vector control measures in Karnataka also,” read a circular issued by the Commissionerate of Health and Family Welfare Services. “The current monsoon season supports the widespread proliferation of [the] Aedes mosquito, which is a vector for Zika Virus Disease.”

The neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are working to mitigate the risk of Zika taking hold. Such measures include intensifying border checks, testing, and vector control efforts.

As my colleague Nicholas Parry noted for Health Issues India last week, “due to the mosquito vector by which Zika is spread, it is capable of rapidly spreading through a population should the circumstances allow for a large breeding population of an Aedes species of mosquito. This type of environment typically occurs during and following the monsoon season in India, where stagnant water in which the mosquitoes may breed is commonplace. 

“India is a country that shows a particularly high level of concern regarding Zika virus due to the prevalence of the Aedes mosquito. Should Zika virus make a foothold within breeding populations of mosquitoes within the country, it could become endemic. This would add Zika to the list of already established prevalent mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya.” 

The Zika outbreak in Kerala is a reminder of the precarious situation India finds itself in when it comes to mosquito-borne diseases. Vigilance is the need of the hour – as is a swift, multisectoral, and collaborative response to ensure that the woes of the COVID-19 pandemic are not exacerbated by a large-scale Zika outbreak. 

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