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PUDUCHERRY : Scientists at the Vector Control Research Centre (VCRC) in Puducherry have sent a proposal to central government health authorities asking them to “repurpose" the RT-PCR laboratories currently being used for covid-19 tests so that they can be harnessed to study the risks of human exposure to vector-borne diseases.

VCRC operates under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Since the covid-19 outbreak, India has set up 3,382 RT-PCR laboratories. “What after covid-19? We now have state-of-the-art facilities which can be repurposed for other work. That is what we have proposed to the union health ministry to start molecular xenomonitoring network for vector-borne disease control," Dr Ashwani Kumar, director, ICMR-VCRC said in an interview.

“Xenomonitoring offers a high throughput and less invasive alternative method with high sensitivity and specificity. It can assess infection in pools of mosquitoes and 1,000s of mosquitoes in pools can be assessed in a single day."

Kumar said there are two ways of monitoring the risks of transmission of vector-borne diseases. “One way is to monitor the causative organisms like parasite or other viruses, and the other is monitoring the vector which transmits the disease. So, xenomonitoring is to monitor the vectors which are transmitting the disease. This will allow us to know the agents in those vectors."

The institute have decided to initially monitor a mosquito called Culex, which transmits lymphatic filariasis. India has so far reported over 480,000 cases from 328 districts. Later, the xenomonitoring network will be expanded to identify unreported sites.

Lymphatic filariasis spreads through mosquitoes, causing lymphedema and elephantiasis in both men and women, and, hydrocele, swelling of the scrotum in men. “We would require primer and probes for this particular agent in order to detect them," Kumar said, adding it is time to deploy xenomonitoring in the lymphatic filariasis elimination programme by establishing a national network of such facilities as a complementary tool in the transmission assessment survey.

Between January and May, India has reported 10,172 dengue cases with three deaths, showed data from the National Centre for Vector Borne Diseases Control, a body under the union ministry of health and family welfare. Till June, around 1,554 cases of chikunguyna were reported, while 62 cases of Japanes encephalitis were detected and two deaths. Till April, 21,558 malaria cases and four deaths were reported.

Scientists have prepared the framework for the proposal and has sent to the ICMR. This protocol will be established in gathering real-time data in the system through a network of labs. Furthermore, it will also help in collating data of other mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, chikungunya and dengue.

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