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Ethiopia is monitoring parts of the country where the mosquito responsible for spreading the Zika virus resides, according to a Federal Ministry of Health statement announced at a press conference held on Friday February 5. A case of the Zika virus, in international headlines in recent months, has not yet been discovered in Ethiopia, however, health institutions are being precautious, preparing for any changes in the situation.
“These mosquitoes are mostly found in warm climate areas in the western part of the country and rift valley. We are currently just tracking the mosquito and we don’t have any fear that the virus is circulating in the country at this moment,” said Dr. Merhawi Aregawi, an emergency advisor at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.
Zika virus (ZIKV) is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes that are active throughout the daytime such as the A. aegypti and A. albopictus mosquitoes. The virus was first isolated in 1947 at the Zika Forest in Uganda and has been linked to Microcephaly, a condition that causes the head to be small in size and underdevelopment of the brain in babies.
This week, the World Health Organization had declared Microcephaly, linked to the mosquito-borne virus, a global public health emergency and advised countries not to accept blood donations from people who have traveled to Zika affected regions.
“We will start to carry out testing at the end of this month. We have the human and technological capacity to carry out the testing, we are just waiting for a certain chemical to use in the process,” Merhawi said.
He further underlined that the virus may not show symptoms in most cases and eventually goes away on its own in adults. Those that are most vulnerable to the disease are pregnant women, he also said.
Areas such as the Somali and Afar Regions as well as Harar are some of the areas where the Zika spreading mosquito is found. The mosquito can thrive in areas where there is a small amount of water and the eggs can stay intact without water for about a year and start hatching during the rainy season or when water becomes available.
“What we have to do is take the same precautions as with malaria such as the utilization of mosquito nets and getting rid of laying dirty water on the streets. The country continues to spray vulnerable areas with chemicals to get rid of the mosquitoes but the society needs to also do its part,” Merhawi said.
Just last year, the government distributed over 30 million mosquito nets in different regions but misuse of the nets is prevalent, making controlling malaria difficult. The ministry is set to begin an awareness campaign on the dangers of the Zika virus through health extension workers so that people will better protect themselves if the virus breaks out in the country.
On related news, the Ministry of Health also stated that there is an H1N1 Influenza virus breakout in the country. This virus is considered to be a non-emergency seasonal virus. According to Dr Dadi Jimma, Ethiopian Public Health Institute’s Deputy Director, there have been laboratory confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu on 32 people of which four have died.
“This virus is especially dangerous to those with underlining chronic illnesses such as tuberculosis as well as kidney problems. The people that have died here from the H1N1 virus all had chronic diseases,” Dadi underlined.
Every year, this influenza type severely affects 3 to 5 million people worldwide and around 500,000 die from it.