The Ministry of Health is presently conducting ongoing surveillance in relation to dealing with the challenge of implicating the Zika virus with the 22 cases of infants with microcephaly (small heads) reported during the period between February and August this year.

It has been reported that the mothers in question had not gone overseas during their pregnancies.

National Programme Manager, Maternal and Child Morbidity and Mortality Surveillance, Consultant Community Physician Dr. Kapila Jayaratne said that they did not know whether the 22 cases constituted a large number or otherwise, as there has been no previous studies conducted into the case.

He remarked that the causality for microcephaly differed and was not solely attributed to Zika.

About 40% of the cases are due to genetic diseases and are therefore not related to any virus. Another 40% of the cases are due to viruses (including rubella and Zika) and other infectious organisms (such as toxoplasma).

“Growth retardation due to nutritional deficiencies in the mother too is a cause,” he explained.

Prevention involves the same as in the case of dengue according to Dr. Jayaratne.

“A meeting of experts called by the Ministry of Health drafted a format of best practices to tackle this. One was to initiate surveillance. It is very difficult to conclude whether Zika is present in Sri Lanka or not,” he said.

He said that a circular has been issued to hospital units where births take place under the supervision of specialists to notify the Family Health Bureau (FHB) within 24 hours of microcephaly being identified.

“We are exploring whether the etiology is related to Zika. Any pregnant woman with fever must on day one of the fever be admitted to a hospital or if they have gone to a general practitioner or an out-patient department must be directed for in-ward care,” he added.
In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency. Zika is not fatal. It starts as a viral fever and then there are rashes, aches, pains and headaches. It generally settles within three to four days. Pregnant women, however, must be cautious.

However, Aedes mosquitoes which transmit dengue are the carriers of Zika and Sri Lanka can be deemed as being highly vulnerable as there is an epidemic of dengue spreading across countries situated near the equator.