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‘India should curb travel from Americas to prevent Zika virus from entering India’

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Zika virus

New Delhi: The mosquito-borne Zika virus – a pathogen which was virtually unheard of till some days ago – is spreading so fast that it can infect nearly four million people in the Americas in next 12 months if not tackled well within time and the threat has now reached India.

In May 2015, Brazil reported its first case of Zika virus disease. Since then, the disease has spread within Brazil and to 22 other countries and territories in the Americas.

Pregnant women are at greater risk. According to health authorities, the virus may trigger a brain abnormality called microcephaly (abnormal smallness of the head) in new-born babies though the link is yet to be established.

Zika virus is transmitted by the bite of Aedes species mosquito which breeds in water-holding containers. Like dengue, it is a day-biting mosquito.

“India has to be on the alert because international travel from central and South America, Africa and the Caribbean Islands can potentially carry the virus into our country,” said Dr Monica Mahajan, senior consultant (internal medicine) at Max Super Specialty Hospital in the capital.

The union health ministry said on Friday that it is making sure that India is well prepared against cases of Zika virus that has already caused much damage in the Americas.

In its latest advisory, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also cautioned pregnant women to avoid travelling to countries at risk of Zika virus transmission.

However, most cases are mild and only one in five humans bitten by the mosquito will develop the disease. Symptoms are similar to chikungunya and dengue but fortunately, complications are rare.

“The recent concern is twofold: There have been cases reported in more nations compared to outbreaks prior to 2015. Secondly, there is concern about possible birth defects in case a pregnant lady gets infected,” Mahajan said.

According to her, past experience with the dengue epidemic shows that mosquito breeding in India is rampant and difficult to control.

“So any mosquito-borne illness tends to spread easily owing to overcrowding and hygiene issues. So till such time that diagnostic facilities are available, the best option is mosquito control measures to prevent mosquito breeding,” she added.

A patient suffering from fever with a rash should be protected from further mosquito bites during the first few days of illness so that he does not pass the virus into more mosquitoes and cause local transmission of disease.

“Zika virus is a vector-borne disease. Currently, it may not be here in India, but if a person lands in India with the active infection and gets bitten by Aedes mosquito and that mosquito bites other peoples this can be spread in India as well,” Dr J.S. Bhasin, senior consultant and HOD (Pediatric and Neonatology department) at BLK Super Specialty Hospital in Delhi.

According to Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), “the level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty. Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly.”

WHO is set to convene an international health regulations emergency committee on Zika virus on February 1 in Geneva to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

“Arrival of the virus in some countries of the Americas, notably Brazil, has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a poorly understood condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis,” a WHO statement read.

The WHO was criticized last year for reacting slowly to Ebola epidemic that killed over 10,000 people.

“A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth defects and neurological syndromes has not been established, but is strongly suspected,” the WHO statement added.

The virus was first isolated in 1947 from a rhesus macaque monkey from Zika forest in Uganda.(Nishant Arora, IANS)(Photo: qcostarica.com)

Next Story

1bn People Could be Exposed to Dengue, Zika by 2080

Dengue is the fastest growing mosquito-borne disease across the world today, causing nearly 400 million infections every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)

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Aedes
Dengue is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito that typically attacks during day time. Pixabay

Global warming could expose as many as a billion people to mosquito-borne diseases including dengue and Zika by 2080, says a new study that examined temperature changes on a monthly basis worldwide.

The study found that with the rise in temperature, dengue is expected to have a year-round transmission in the tropics and seasonal risks almost everywhere else. A greater intensity of infections is also predicted.

To understand, researchers from Georgetown University in the US looked at temperatures month by month to project the risks through 2050 and 2080.

While almost all of the world’s population could be exposed at some point in the next 50 years, places like Europe, North America, and high elevations in the tropics that used to be too cold for the viruses will face new diseases like dengue.

On the other hand, in areas with the worst climate increase, including west Africa and southeast Asia, serious reductions are expected for the Aedes albopictus mosquito, most noticeably in southeast Asia and west Africa, revealed the study, published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Dengue vaccine.
A Manila Health officer shows off a pair of vials of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia after being recalled from local government health centers Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. The World Health Organization says the first-ever vaccine for dengue needs to be dealt with in “a much safer way,” meaning that the shot should mostly be given to people who have previously been infected with the disease. VOA

Both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes can carry dengue, chikunguyna and Zika viruses, as well as at least a dozen other emerging diseases.

“Climate change is the largest and most comprehensive threat to global health security,” said Colin J. Carlson, postdoctoral candidate in Georgetown University in the US.

“The risk of disease transmission is a serious problem, even over the next few decades,” Carlson added.

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Dengue is the fastest growing mosquito-borne disease across the world today, causing nearly 400 million infections every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The 2018 data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) and National Health Profile showed that cases of dengue increased 300 per cent — from less than 60,000 cases in 2009, it increased to 188,401 in 2017. (IANS)