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Suspected cases of Zika, Monkeypox reported in Lahore hospital

Updated March 12, 2019

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File photo shows a hospital.— Photo courtesy of Yumna Rafi
File photo shows a hospital.— Photo courtesy of Yumna Rafi

LAHORE: In what appears to be an alarming situation, two deadly viruses -- Zika and Monkeypox -- have been reported for the first time in Pakistan.

The ‘Disease Surveillance System’ of the Punjab Information and Technology Board (PITB) has reported the presence of the suspected patients of these two viral diseases in the Nawaz Sharif Yakki Gate Hospital, a state-run facility in Lahore.

The PITB also reported strains of various other diseases reported by the government hospitals of Punjab, including Children’s Hospital Multan, Benazir Bhutto Hospital Rawalpinid, Children’s Hospital Lahore, Nishtar Hospital Multan, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Lahore etc.

However, the presence of Zika and Monkeypox viruses has alarmed the health experts most.

A health expert said Zika virus spread mostly through an infected Aedes species mosquito during the day and night. Such viral infection during pregnancy caused microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities in the developing fetus and newborn, he said, adding the infection also resulted in complications such as fetal loss, stillbirth, and preterm birth. Most patients did not develop symptoms, he said.

No vaccination yet to fight deadly viruses, warn experts

About Monkeypox, he said it was a rare viral zoonotic disease that occured primarily in remote parts of central and west Africa, near tropical rain forests. The virus was similar to human smallpox, a disease that had been eradicated in 1980, he said.

The PITB issued an alert to the health authorities to gather details of the pictorial evidences of the suspected patients as well as the diseases. It also provided a list of 23 reported diseases, stating the PITB system had reported different strains of new diseases in various hospitals of Punjab.

However, the news about the presence of suspected patients with the Zika and Monkeypox viruses alarmed the local health authorities, as they believed that the two diseases had rarely been reported world-over and Pakistan lacked the capacity to deal with these viruses in case of an epidemic.

“It is stated that different strains of new diseases have been reported on the ‘disease surveillance system’ of the Punjab Information Technology Board through emergencies and OPDs of the state-run hospitals”, reads the alert issued by PITB senior programme manager Shamsul Islam.

A copy of the letter is also available with Dawn. The senior health expert said it would be very unfortunate and alarming for Pakistan if emergent measures were not taken to deal with the “new emergency.”

He said on the resurgence of a Zika case in USA, the state had declared an extreme level of emergency in the country, imposing travel ban on pregnant women to Africa, the region where once epidemic had been reported.

“There is no treatment available for Zika virus infection or its associated diseases”, he said, adding that no vaccine was yet available for the prevention or treatment of the infection.

Quoting the reports of World Health Organization, the expert said Zika virus could be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy, resulting in microcephaly (smaller than normal head size) and other congenital malformations in the infant.

“The reporting of two dangerous viruses in Punjab is a highly sensitive matter and we are investigating the cases on a priority”, says Punjab Health Director General Munir Ahmad.

Talking to Dawn, he declared the presence of suspected patients of Zika and Monkeypox in Pakistan was a dangerous sign if it was officially confirmed.

Normally, he said, such cases were reported by the Centre Health Establishment (CHE) in Islamabad after following the laid down procedure. The health sectors of the provinces could also report these cases, if they went unreported by CHE, he added.

“However, we are investigating into the caseas after consulting the PITB and other officers concerned”, he said, adding that it would be premature to say anything about the confirmation of the patients reported with these two deadly viruses.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2019