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India susceptible to Zika outbreak: Study

According to the researchers, with 67,422 travellers arriving in India annually, the country is one of the most vulnerable targets, second to China

mumbai Updated: Sep 09, 2016 15:47 IST
Sadaguru Pandit
The authors suggested that resource-limited countries that have minimal travel restrictions need to use health and human resources strategically to prevent the spread of the virus.
The authors suggested that resource-limited countries that have minimal travel restrictions need to use health and human resources strategically to prevent the spread of the virus.(HT File Photo)

India, with 1.2billion residents in a potential Zika virus transmission area, and a large number of travellers from countries affected by the disease, could be the next country susceptible to the virus, read a study published in Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, an international journal.

According to the researchers, with 67,422 travellers arriving in India annually, the country is one of the most vulnerable targets, second to China, which welcomes 2,38,415 travellers a year. August is the time of peak exposure to the virus. The study — set to attract the attention of policy makers — focused on countries with large volumes of travellers arriving from Zika-affected areas of America.

The study — supported in part by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (BioMosiac program) — investigated the risks of the introduction of Zika virus by travellers from endemic areas in the Americas and further transmission in resource-limited countries in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

The model is based on monthly flows of airline travellers from the endemic areas, climatic models of Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, population size estimates, and estimated health care expenditure per capita in countries in these regions.

The authors suggested that resource-limited countries that have minimal travel restrictions need to use health and human resources strategically to prevent the spread of the virus.

As of June 27, 40 countries and territories in America have confirmed the transmission of Zika Virus, causing the World Health Organisation to declare it a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. “An estimated 2.6billion people live in areas that have competent mosquito vectors and suitable climate conditions for the introduction and transmission of the virus,” said the authors.

The researchers plotted a 50km buffer zone around infected areas in America to accommodate the potential movement of travellers from these area to the nearest airports. The air traffic for the 689 cities with one or more commercial airports falling within this zone — including online ticket sales and flight itinerary data between December 1, 2014 to November 30, 2015 — was researched for the first of its kind study.

Then the researchers mapped the monthly final destinations of the travellers departing from airports within these buffered zones for airports to Africa an Asia pacific region.

They pointed out that he risk of virus management is greater in India, which merely spends 75$ (about Rs5,000) on per capita health expenditure and ranks 71st in the list of 104 countries according to the health expenditure index.

Dr Om Shrivastava, head of the infectious diseases cell at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, who was instrumental in forming guidelines for infectious disease treatment protocols in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the state health department, said it is public awareness that will play a key role in controlling the spread of the virus.

“An understanding of the virus has changed drastically in the past one year with more studies showing its ability to affect multiple organs and be transmitted through bodily fluids. While the monitoring system of the public health department will help us to trace infected individuals, people have to come forward if they are suffering from symptoms of the Zika virus,” said Shrivastava.