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Central health ministry responds to WHO’s global call against Zika virus, finally releases guidelines

NEW DELHI: Ripples of the global panic were felt in India, as the Central health ministry came out with a stringent set of guidelines, Tuesday, on the Zika virus disease, after the World Health Organisation labelled the virus and its related neurological disease Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This alert, caused by cases of microcephaly and brain damage in babies born to women who contracted the virus, put it in the same category as the Ebola virus.

So far, 20 countries have reported the virus, even as scientists race to find concrete links between it and microcephaly, and vaccines to prevent it, as there is none at the present. Apart from the Americas, WHO sees South East Asia as a region of concern, asking countries to strengthen surveillance and preventive measures, as the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which acts as a carrier, abounds in the region. The same mosquito carries the virus for dengue too, of which India sees an annual outbreak, with the 2015 season being the worse in many years.
After a “high-level meeting” on 29 January, central health minister JP Nadda released guidelines on India’s preparedness and plan of action should the virus hit its shores. These guidelines were initially to be released on 30 January, as told to dna by officials in the National Centre for Disease Control.
All airports will monitor travellers returning from affected countries and will have quarantine and isolation facilities within their premises. Rapid Response Teams, comprising “an epidemiologist/public health specialist, microbiologist and a medical/paediatric specialist and other experts (entomologist etc)”, will be activated at state and central levels, ready to travel at short notice in case of an outbreak. The NCDC in Delhi will be the nodal agency for these teams.
Most importantly, community surveillance will be heightened via the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme, which will gather data and “track clustering of acute febrile illness and seek primary case, if any, among those who travelled to areas with ongoing transmission in the 2 weeks preceding the onset of illness.”
IDSP would also advise its State and District level units to look for clustering of cases of microcephaly among newborns and reporting of Guillain Barre Syndrome, and the Maternal and Child Health Division (under NHM) would also advise its field units to look for clustering of cases of microcephaly among newborns.
Even as NCDC takes point, the National Institute of Virology, Pune has been roped in for laboratory diagnosis, with ten more labs being strengthened by the Indian Council of Medical Research to to support NCDC and NIV.
The ministry also placed special emphasis on Kerala and Tamil Nadu as the weather conditions there that encouraged the spread of dengue make them conducive to Zika virus. The measures of vector control, employed during the dengue outbreak will be re-deployed.

The ministry repeated the warning issued by the Indian Medical Association to pregnant women, against travel to affected areas and asked those who have already travelled to mention the fct during “antenatal visits in order to be assessed and monitored appropriately”.

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