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Expert warns Malawi on Zika virus

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University of Oxford researcher, Dr Oliver Brady, has warned that the warm and humid weather makes Malawi susceptible to the Zika virus.

His caution comes in the wake of the release of a new detailed map indicating that 2.2 billion people live in parts of the world where the virus can spread.

But the Ministry of Health (MoH) has once again played down the risk of the deadly virus, saying chances that it can spread to the country are very minimal.

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The map published in the journal eLife, with Brady as one of the lead researchers, shows that nations just above and below the equator particularly those with warm and humid weather, risk catching the virus.

The researchers say Africa and Asia have large areas that could be susceptible to the virus.

In Malawi places such as the lower shire districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, Mangochi, Salima, parts of Nkhotakota and Karonga, among others, could sustain the infection due to their warm temperatures.

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The Zika virus is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and is known for its hindrance to the development of the brain in foetuses within pregnant women.

Earlier this year MoH Public Relations Officer, Adrian Chikumbe, downplayed the fears that the virus might spread to the country, arguing that mosquitoes in the country are different from those in South America where the virus has spread fast.

However, Dr Brady thinks differently.

“Mosquitoes are just one condition needed for Zika to spread but there’s a whole range of other ones. It needs to be warm enough for Zika to replicate inside the mosquito and for there to be a large enough [human] population to transmit it,” Dr Brady says in the report.

Health Minister, Peter Kumpalume, said yesterday that although the virus can spread anywhere in the world, the country’s level of risk is low.

“It is not something we should be concerned about. The ministry is always aware and alert to deal with emergencies when need arises,” Kumpalume said.

The World Health Organization two weeks ago declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency.

Doctors in already affected countries have gone a step further and are advising women to delay getting pregnant.

Symptoms of the virus include mild fever, red and sore eyes, joint pain, a rash and headache. Children born to infected mothers have underdeveloped brain among other complications.

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