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What is Seasonality Effect and How It May Help Curb Zika Cases

One of the most effective methods to eradicate diseases is pulse vaccinations, a strategy which involves repeatedly vaccinating people in a defined age range until the disease is stopped.

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Updated:September 4, 2019, 3:19 PM IST
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What is Seasonality Effect and How It May Help Curb Zika Cases
The t-shirt reads 'Out Zika'. (Representative photo: Reuters)
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Every year, the mosquito-borne diseases come uninvited with the monsoon rains. While dengue cases in the country have already gone worse, with a few people dying because of the vector-borne disease. In addition, malaria, chikungunya and zika cases are also causing worry among the residents. While most of these mosquito-borne diseases do not have a cure, prevention from mosquito bite and avoiding mosquito breeding is the most effective way to not fall victim to these diseases.

A recent study, released this week on bioRxiv, has identified the seasonality effect, named ‘winter is coming effect’, in respect to the growth of pathogens. Titled ‘Winter is coming: Pathogen emergence in seasonal environments’, the study is done by Philippe Carmona and Sylvain Gandon, and deals with the probability of emergence of vector-borne diseases in seasonal environments, and ways to improve risk maps of Zika virus emergence.

The study also mentions how understanding the winter is coming effect could help eradicate diseases like zika more quickly. One of the most effective methods to eradicate diseases is pulse vaccinations, a strategy which involves repeatedly vaccinating people in a defined age range until the disease is stopped.

However, in order to effectively respond to outbreaks, researchers focus on understanding early warning signs. To predict these outbreaks, researchers use classic epidemiological models and depend on factors like transmission rates, clusters of susceptible people, and recovery versus mortality rates of people who get sick.

Being highly simplified, this method doesn't account for changes in transmission and susceptibility through time. However, it is to be noted that Shifts in environmental conditions can change the way pathogens affect people. Additionally, the environmental effects are magnified if a disease relies on a vector, like mosquitos or ticks, to infect more people.

To understand the spread of pathogens based on environment, the researchers focused on exploring variation explained by seasonality. As reported in the study, “when the introduction time of the pathogen is shortly followed by a low transmission season, the introduced pathogen is doomed because it will suffer from the bad times ahead. We call this the winter is coming effect.”

The study finds out how Seasonality alters how dense mosquitos are in the area, which influences how fast and how far Zika virus can reach. The study shows that even if other parameters are in favor of the virus spreading (e.g., high transmission rates or low recovery rates of those infected), a Zika outbreak isn’t likely to happen if the period is followed by extremely tough conditions.

Therefore, completing pulse vaccinations at least fourth months before the outbreak may help reduce Zika outbreaks.

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