The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Thursday put out its first press release on the Zika virus cases in India without explaining why it did not announce them to the public till five months after the first case was detected. The three cases, all from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, had become public on May 26, after the World Health Organisation announced that they had received information from India about them on May 15.
However, the ministry clarified that they had followed “existing protocol” in informing the World Health Organisation as late as May, even though the first case was confirmed in November 2016. “On 18th November, 2016, WHO had declared that Zika disease infection no longer constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” the release said. “Since WHO had already withdrawn the notification of Zika virus disease as a PHEIC, the case was handled as per our existing protocol.”
Scroll.in had reported about how the municipal authorities who are directly responsible for handling vector control in the city were kept in the dark about the Zika infection being present there. Instead, the authorities were told that they had to conduct surveillance for malaria control.
Moreover, people in the city, specifically Bapu Nagar and Gopal Nagar, where the Zika-afflicted patients lived, were not informed about the disease in the area. Gujarat Health Commissioner, JP Gupta also told Scroll.in that the people whose samples were taken were not told that they were being tested for Zika virus.
The release said that the first case was detected during a regular fever surveillance drive to control dengue and chikungunya in the Gujarat in November 2016, during which one of the samples tested positive for Zika as well. The chief of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Dr Soumya Swaminathan told Scroll.in that the samples that were negative for dengue or chikungunya were tested for Zika.
This first case was re-tested at the National Institute of Virology, Pune and confirmed on January 3.
“Following the first case, the surveillance was further strengthened and thousands of blood samples were tested as only a thorough investigation can detect cases, given that 8 % of the cases are asymptomatic,” said the release. This yielded two more cases of Zika. However, after these two cases, not a single sample tested positive, the release clarified.