The Big Story: Containing contagion

The Zika virus has arrived in India. On Friday, the World Health Organisation announced on its website that three cases had been detected in Ahmedabad. The Indian government reportedly sent the information to the WHO on May 15. Earlier, in March, in an answer to a question in the Lok Sabha, a minister had mentioned that one person in Ahmedabad had tested positive for the virus in January. What the government neglected to do, however, was tell local authorities in the city, make sure that information and precautions trickled down to its alleyways. Its initial response to the disease has raised serious doubts about its ability to contain contagion.

The Zika virus is carried by the Aedes mosquito, though it can also be sexually transmitted. Most worryingly, pregnant women can pass the virus on to the foetus, which may then show serious birth defects, including microcephaly and stunted brain development. When Zika fever broke out in Brazil in 2015, the virus was detected after a spurt in cases of mirocephaly, or babies being born with abnormally small heads. As the epidemic raged through South America in 2015-’16, at least 1.5 million people were affected in Brazil alone. The WHO had then declared it a “public health emergency of international concern”. According to one study of the virus in Columbia, it was highly contagious, with one person spreading it to four others. Ebola in West Africa only had a contagion rate of 1.5 to 2.

Standard precautions against Zika include mosquito control and getting people in vulnerable areas to wear light, long-sleeved clothes. Can India, whose fetid drains and water bodies breed clouds of mosquitoes every year, where infections like dengue, chikungunya and malaria spread rapidly among densely packed populations, do the hard work of controlling Zika? The government’s initial response suggests that it has not taken the threat of the virus seriously.

The Big Scroll

Rajib Dasgupta points out that the authorities who failed to publish news about Zika cases have violated codes of medical ethics.

Ahmedabad health officials found out about Zika cases in their city from the World Health Organisation website, reports Menaka Rao.

Scroll staff tell you all you need to know about zika.


  1. In the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues that the army has more to fear from the mob behind it, hungry for spectacle, than any mob it may have to face in Kashmir.
  2. In the Hindu, Hardeep S Puri on the erosion of the global order built on the United Nations and the Bretton Woods agreement, and how an alternative is yet to emerge.
  3. In the Telegraph, Manini Chatterjee on the army’s use of a human shield and how it diminishes India.


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