New Delhi: The Centre is still toying with the idea of including mandatory laboratory testing for microcephaly cases as part of the newborn birth screening programme, even as India has already detected four zika cases.

Soon after the cases came to light around six months ago, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that it will initiate testing in pregnant women and children under the Reproductive and Child Health Division of the ministry of health and family welfare.

While testing for zika virus in pregnant women with fever has started in government hospitals, the initiation of newborn screening through Rashtriya Bal Suraksha Karyakram (RBSK) is still to take off.

“In highly populated country like India, we only had four cases. We are discussing with expert doctors and scientists whether to include zika testing in new born screening program or not. Laboratory testing for microcephaly is currently operational in 55 medical colleges of the country," said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, secretary, Department of Health Research, Union health ministry, and director general at ICMR.

“Surveillance of zika is certainly important and we are planning to enhance human surveillance for zika virus by including private labs in testing, and training more medical college labs to do testing. It has to be thought scientifically whether testing all children for zika virus under new born screening programs is actually required or not," she said.

On similar lines, a recent paper published in the National Medical Journal of India by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences stated that zika virus infection cannot be accurately diagnosed in newborns solely on the basis of microcephaly screening and these criteria need to be revised in order to detect all affected newborn babies.

“We are however monitoring microcephaly from 55 sentinel sites and doctors are referring suspected cases for laboratory testing. As of now, no increase in number of cases of microcephaly has been reported from these centres," said Swaminathan.

So far, a total of 40,533 samples have been tested for zika virus through various mechanisms and four were found positive.

Currently, there is no available drug or vaccine that is effective against the zika virus. Treatment is mainly supportive in nature. Bharat Biotech International Ltd has a zika vaccine candidate entering shortly into Phase I clinical trials.

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