Zika: a real threat at our doorstep

Zika is fast becoming an explosive pandemic. The infection is linked to the development of unusually small heads and brain damage in newborns. What is so horrific about this disease is that it spreads almost invisibly and there is no vaccination developed yet to contain it.

WHO South-East Asia has urged the countries in the region to strengthen their surveillance systems and to take preventive measures against the disease. Bhutan has intensified the existing vector-borne disease control programmes particularly in the malaria-prone areas in the southern belt of the country.

This gives us some comfort but the disease is already at our doorstep.

We now hear of Zika cases in Australia, Thailand, and even in India. Aedes aegyptii mosquito, the vector that carries the disease respects no international boundary. In curious cases, the disease can also be transmitted sexually.

As nations are grappling with this appalling disease, what is alarming is that there are more questions than answers. We are yet to understand the impact this pandemic could have on societies across the globe. If the disease can be spread through sex, how do we know who carries the disease? About 80 percent of infected people display no symptoms. According to WHO estimate, as many as 4 million people could be infected by the end of the year.

Although the disease was first discovered in the forest in Uganda in 1947 it is common in Africa and Asia. What adds to the concern is the perfect environment climate change could help create for the disease-carrying mosquitoes to breed. The Asian tiger mosquito is known to transmit the virus and, like most other mosquitoes, it breeds well and fast in warm swamps and puddles.

Department of Public Health has asked hospital administration to inform clinicians to verify travel history of people with symptoms similar to dengue. This may help us protect ourselves from the disease. What we can ill afford at this time is to be complacent. The danger is real and it is growing.

With lack of treatment, the best we can do is focus on prevention, failing which our health system could be helplessly overwhelmed. Our advice, therefore, is that people should travel with caution, use mosquito nets and repellents. If any symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes show, visit the nearest health centre. These small measures and efforts will go a long way in preventing the spread of dangerous Zika virus.

The threat from Zika is real and looms large at our doorstep.

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