Sunday January 21, 2018

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
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  • 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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All You Need To Know About India’s Strategic Chabahar Port

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border.

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Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is of great international significance in terms of trade, especially for India. Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Verma

  • The Chabahar Port is of great strategic importance for India
  • It is in Iran and is being built and operated by India
  • This port will increase India’s trade with Central Asia and Europe

The Chabahar Port is a seaport in Chabahar, which is on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran-Pakistan border. Chabahar is the trans-shipment and logistics hub for the Makran Coast and Baluchistan province of Iran.

Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port is built and operated by India. Wikimedia Commons

The tension between India and Pakistan is nothing new. There are several instances where both the countries have tried to obstruct each other’s political or economic agendas. This obstruction, along with other strategic reasons, resulted in the India and Iran’s deal on the Chabahar Port, which is crucial because of several reasons.

Here are few things about it you may not have known before :

  • Under the Trilateral Transit and Transport Agreement of 2016, the Chabahar port is the gateway to the Transport Corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan, which allows multi-modal goods’ and passengers’ transport.

Also Read: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

  • The agreement also states that India will develop and operate two berths in the first phase of the port. The contract is for 10 years and extendable. This time period excludes the first two years as they will be used for construction.
Chabahar Port will make India's trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will make India’s trade with Afghanistan easier. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port’s first phase, which was developed by India, and inaugurated by Iran on 4th December 2017, is of great strategic importance as it makes it easier for India to conduct trade with Central Asia and Europe.
  • Iran’s Chabahar port is also important for India’s trade because of Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing India to send goods to Iran and Afghanistan through its land territory.

Also Read: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant 

  • The development of Chabahar Port will increase the momentum of the International North-South Transport Corridor whose signatories include India, Afghanistan and Russia. Iran is the key gateway in this project. It will improve India’s trade with Central Asia as well as Europe.
    The Chabahar Port has also reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on the transit road, which went through Karachi. Now, trade can be conducted via Chabahar Port too. Islamabad has accused India of trying to use this development as a means to destabilise Pakistan.

    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
    The Chabar Port is the said to be the counter to the Gwadar Port. Wikimedia Commons
  • The Chabahar Port also acts as a counter to the barely 100 km away, Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is developed by China. However, Iran has defended that Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar and Pakistan is invited to join in its development.
  • In October 2017, India sent its first shipment of wheat to through Chabahar to Afghanistan, in order to test the viability of the route.
  • India will also construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar to Hajigak in Afghanistan. It will also connect Mashad in the north, providing access to Turkmenistan as well as northern Afghanistan.This project is worth $1.6 billion.

    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehrain. Wikimedia Commons
    India will supply $400 million worth of steel rails to Tehran. Wikimedia Commons
  • It is being said that India will supply $400 million of steel rails to Tehran. There are also possibilities of setting up a fertilizer plant through a joint venture with the Iranian government.