Sunday October 22, 2017

Older strain lurks since 1952, Zika virus heads for India: WHO Scientists

With the rise of Dengue and Chikungunya cases throughout the country, can India take on another such deadly virus?

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All countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission. Source: Wikimedia commons
  • Zika virus was first discovered in a rhesus monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947 and 4 years later, its first human case was reported from Nigeria
  • The virus is linked to microcephaly, abnormally small heads and brains in foetuses
  • According to a study of travel patterns, scientists have predicted that India would be the next target of the virus

September 10, 2016: A virulent version of the Zika virus that has swept the globe is headed for India, where an older, more benign strain is likely to be quietly residing within some Indians, possibly preparing a genetic ground for a quick, new second-coming, experts have warned.

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The paper comes soon after a study in Lancet which used travel patterns to predict that India— where more than 67,000 air travellers arrive every year — and four other countries (China, Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand) were most at risk for year-round transmission of the Zika virus. China has more people, but more people are at risk in India.

A virus that hasn’t been particularly dangerous since it was first discovered in a rhesus monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947 (the first human case was reported in Nigeria seven years later), Zika has grabbed global attention because the virulent form — more than a million infections have been reported from Brazil — is linked to microcephaly, abnormally small heads and brains in foetuses.

After first emerging on a remote Pacific island in 2007, the new strain, borne by the female Aedes mosquitoes and air travel, and detected in Brazil in May 2015, has swept through 26 countries in the Americas, Cape Verde in Africa and Singapore, where 200 infections were reported within eight days. Currently, 58 countries and territories are affected by the Zika virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On September 5, 2016, the Philippines confirmed its first Zika infection.

“The original African strain went to Asia between 1954 and 2000, that did not cause microcephaly,” Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told IndiaSpend via email, explaining Zika’s march.

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“The shift to the pandemic strain happened in 2007 to Micronesia and in 2013 to French Polynesia. This is sometimes called the Asian strain, which went Eastward into the New World. Now the Asian ?strain is headed to Africa continuing East back to India.”

Despite email requests over a week, the National Centre for Disease Control, the National Institute of Virology (NIV), and the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP) did not respond to requests for comment on the possible entry of Zika into India.

How Zika marched across the world

After Zika was detected in humans in 1954 in Nigeria, serologic evidence-evidence from blood serum of human infection was reported from at least seven African countries and parts of Asia, including India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, between 1951 and 1981.

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Between 2007 and 2014, it caused, as Prof Holtz put it, “explosive” outbreaks in Micronesia, French Polynesia, and Easter Island-South Pacific.

Then, in May 2015, a Brazilian national laboratory reported a native or local-case of transmission.

“A new mosquito-borne disease had indeed arrived in the Americas, though no one knew what that might mean,” said a WHO May 2016 report: One year into the Zika outbreak: How an obscure disease became a global health emergency.

By mid-July, 2015, Brazil notified WHO of a spike in neurological disorders-swelling of the brain and spinal cord, GBS and microcephaly.

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Since its entry into Brazil, according to the review paper, Zika cut a swath through 26 countries in the Americas.

On February 1, 2016, WHO declared Zika a “public health emergency of international concern”, requiring a coordinated international response.

Why is India at risk ?

India contains Zika’s “disease ecology” — Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, crowding, poverty, lack of sanitation and hygiene, travellers and visitors and warming that prolongs mosquito season. It will only take an infected person to travel to India and then be bitten by the tiger mosquito.

Adult Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector or carrier of the Zika virus. Source: wikipedia.org
Adult Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector or carrier of the Zika virus.
Source: wikipedia.org

Aedes aegypti is now found mainly in homes and other buildings, protected from monsoon winds and other factors that slowed its spread when it was a forest-dwelling creature. It is active during the day, and it is a master of evolution.

Between 5-20 percent of a mosquito population’s collective genome — the collection of their genes — is responding to evolutionary pressure at any given time, according to a June 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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For India to be affected by the virus, it would need large populations of susceptible people living in close proximity to large populations of Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

Aedes aegypti and dengue are prevalent wherever there has been a Zika outbreak in the Western hemisphere. Indonesia and India are currently experiencing the worst dengue problems in the world, said Hotez.

“Based on that assumption, India is at risk,” he said. In India’s case, though, there are some big unknowns.

First, how widespread was the earlier African strain reported in India during the 1950s, and how exposed was India’s population to that first wave?

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“That earlier strain does not cause microcephaly but could possibly induce immunity to this new more concerning virus strain,” said Hotez. India needs more studies to find out.

Second, could the new pandemic Zika strain affect India, as it is currently Singapore?

“We have seen that wherever dengue occurs in Western Hemisphere, we can find Zika as well,” said Hotez. “But we don’t know if that’s just because both viruses are transmitted by Aedes aegypti, or if previous dengue infections can also promote increased susceptibility to Zika.”

Symptoms of Zika virus. Source: wikipedia.org
Symptoms of Zika virus. Source: wikimedia Commons

Since the symptoms of dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus infections are similar, and only laboratory tests can distinguish one from the other, it is possible that cases clinically diagnosed as dengue or chikungunya fevers could be Zika infections.

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The question is this: Has Zika not been present in India or has no one looked over the past 40 years?

Chikungunya wasn’t supposed to be in India; then it showed up

Zika’s cousin, chikungunya, first had a major outbreak across India-barring Kerala which had no Aedes aegypti mosquitoes then between 1964 and 1967.

Chikungunya faded from public and scientific memory, and when it returned in 2002, “we were caught with our collective pants down”, said T Jacob John, a retired virologist who, along with two colleagues, documented India’s first HIV infection in 1986, and designed a national response.

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Biological events are unpredictable, but government responses should not be.

However, said John, “civilized countries would err on the precautionary side rather than relying on luck as we Indians often do”. (IANS)

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You May Soon Be Able to Prevent Chikungunya With Vaccines! IIT-Roorkee Researchers Discover Drug to Fight the Disease

At present, there are no immunizations or anti-viral medications available to cure Chikungunya, and the treatment is focused on mitigating the side effects related with the disease

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Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted to humans via infected mosquitoes. Pixabay

Roorkee, October 9, 2017 : Dengue and Chikungunya are known to strike fear in the country every year, so much so that the health graph of the city registers a steep rise in these cases. Both of the water-borne diseases, characterized by high fever and pain in the joints, take a toll on our lives. So far, there is no vaccine to immunize people against the spread of the Dengue and Chikungunya virus. However, researchers at IIT-Roorkee have now discovered that a commonly-utilized de-worming drug can be efficiently used for treatments against Chikungunya.

According to a report by PTI, Shailly Tomar, lead researcher and a professor at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee in Uttarakhand was quoted as saying, “Our research has shown that piperazine, a drug existing in the market, is successful in curbing the spread and replication of the Chikungunya virus in a lab setting.”

The drug, Piperazine, is usually used in de-worming treatments against round-words and pinworms. Using their expertise in virology and structure biology, experts have now discovered the anti-viral capabilities of the drug that can potentially prompt new therapies against the fatal, mosquito borne disease.

The researchers are currently testing the molecule on animals, and will consequently take it to clinical trials.

ALSO READ What preventive steps have the city Government taken to control Dengue and Chikungunya, asks the Delhi High Court

The molecular details uncovered in the study, which has been published in the journal Antiviral Research, will be additionally used to plan piperazine-derivative medications that are more compelling to fight against the Chikungunya virus.

Using X-ray crystallographic technique, in combination with computational science and fluorescence strategies, the researchers discovered that piperazine binds itself with the hydrophobic (water-hating) pocket of capsid protein present in the Chikungunya virus, which can reduce the spread of the virus.

“This pocket is key to the replication of the virus and its spread inside a host. Inhibiting the pocket prevents budding and spread of the virus and can help in treating the virus effectively using existing drugs,” Tomar said.

Chikungunya has become a major public health concern, with an increasing number of people being plagued by the disease every year.

 At present, there are no immunizations or anti-viral medications available to cure Chikungunya, and the treatment is focused on mitigating the side effects related with the disease. 

Developing a new anti-viral drug molecule can take up to 10 years. To tend to the disease on an immediate basis, Professor Tomar added, “We are looking at repositioning existing, approved drugs and testing these to see if they might inhibit or kill pathogenic viruses.”

 

 

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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United nations
India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya.