Editor's note: The Zika virus outbreak in Rajasthan has affected around 80 people in the state so far. This article is the first one in a multi-part series which focuses on the causes of the outbreak and the measures taken against it.
Jaipur: One of the root causes for the outbreak of the Zika virus in Rajasthan has been identified as lack of fogging to prevent mosquito breeding. According to doctors at the Jaipur municipality, fogging has not been carried out over the last “10 years”.
The first fogging activity was scheduled only 10 days after the first case of Zika was reported in Jaipur. “The Jaipur Municipal Corporation (JMC) and Department of Health, (Government of Rajasthan) are fully responsible for this situation,” says Dr Narottam Sharma, chief medical and health officer at the Jaipur department of medical, health and family welfare.
According to Sharma, reports of the virus from SMS government hospital in Jaipur were considered inaccurate, and doctors waited for a second round of confirmation from a laboratory based in Pune. Once the reports confirmed presence of Zika, arbitrary orders were given to carry out fogging in Jaipur’s Shastri Nagar, from where the first case was registered. Rajasthan’s health minister, Kalicharan Saraf, visited the spot only 17 days after the first case was reported.
“A situation of panic arose among residents as they were not allowed to move out of their house,” added Sharma.
Fines add fuel to fire
Adding fuel to the fire, JMC slapped fines on nearby residents. Under a campaign started by JMC, all houses in and around the affected areas were to be surveyed, and any house found with breeding larvae would be fined.
“JMC claimed that out of 2.44 lakh containers, as many as 55,000 have been made larvae-free till now. Additionally, Rs 44,000 has been collected as penalty from about 68 houses. In a way, if a mosquito has entered a resident’s house, and has managed to form larvae, the owner will have to pay the fine,” said an official from JMC.
As many as 250 teams have been set up by the corporation to identify symptoms of the virus and penalise houses where larvae is found. The teams are also taking door-to-door blood samples in the affected areas, to ensure proper identification of all patients.
A tender for two large and five small machines used for fogging was approved after the number of patients infected by Zika virus increased significantly. JMC now claims to have installed the machines and states that they are fully functional. According to JMC’s Dr Sonia Agarwal, fogging has been conducted based on the machines and facilities available at JMC. The virus has now traveled from Shastri Nagar to Sindhi Camp Rajput Hostel, where six students who were tested positive have been isolated, and around 150 others have been kept inside.
The other issue is that mosquitoes have now grown immune to the chemical used for fogging, which is therefore not effective anymore. Two decades ago, when the chemical level for fogging was increased, several residents had fallen ill and the department received several complaints regarding skin diseases. Due to this, the Human Rights Commission set a limit for the level of chemical to be used for fogging. “The department is now in talks with the commission to increase the chemical dose,” Dr Agarwal added. Pyrethrum, the primary chemical, is used in a ratio of 1:19 with diesel, for the process.
Waste collection hampered too
As per government records, around 80 people have tested positive for Zika in Rajasthan. The department as well as doctors have been unable to control the situation. Agarwal said that fogging takes place twice a day now and approximately three wards are covered at a time. This process is expected to continue till 25 October to ensure adequate impact. A similar situation was witnessed between 2008 and 2009, when the first case of swine flu was detected in the city.
About 900 persons were sampled for Zika, out of which 152 were pregnant women. According to doctors, the virus is not harmful enough to kill a human being. However, Zika’s effects are majorly seen during the first trimester of a pregnancy. The virus can prove to be a hindrance in the neurological growth of the child. Since basic symptoms of the virus are fever, cough, body pain and sneezing, the department of health has ordered extra precautionary measures for pregnant women in the affected areas, including restriction from entering affected areas.
Meanwhile, JMC is also facing a tussle with a company to which it has outsourced waste collection, and that has resulted in a halt of solid waste collection across the city. The tussle is about the monetary agreement between both parties. With waste piling up, larger breeding grounds are available for mosquitoes, which could potentially add to the spread of the virus.
(Author is a Rajasthan-based freelance writer and a member of 101reporters.com.)
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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2018 16:02 PM