Keeping the masses informed is key to management of an epidemic or a potential public health crisis. The Gujarat government’s silence hitherto over cases of Zika virus infection in Ahmedabad, therefore, is surprising, to say the least. Though the state chief secretary has stated that the information was in the public domain since March when the junior minister for health at the Centre, Anupriya Patel, apprised the Lok Sabha of the single confirmed case of Zika (till then) in the city, it is not until the WHO reported three cases of infection in Gujarat that the information spread wide.
Such behaviour significantly increases the risks of an epidemic, given an unaware public is more likely to expose itself to chances of infection in, say, an untagged high prevalence area. First identified in Brazil in 2015, Zika has spread to over 60 countries so far—it can lead to a form of paralysis in adult and paediatric patients and has been strongly linked to microcephaly in neonates whose mother was carrying the infection at the time of pregnancy.
Given how the WHO has termed Zika a global health crisis, with developing nations in the tropics bearing the brunt, there is a need to contain its spread on a war-footing. That would involve identifying and quarantining patients carrying an active infection, mapping hotspots in urban and rural agglomerations, informing the public about such hotspots and creating awareness regarding prevention.
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Given the disease has no cure and a preventive vaccine is still some years away—and how common the vector, the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, is in India—the chances of an unprecendented crisis multiply with Gujarat-style summary silence. It is better that people are kept informed and made aware about best to contain the chances of an outbreak.