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

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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)

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Fetal Microcephaly Not Found In The Zika Virus Strain Of Rajasthan

In India, the first outbreak was reported in Ahmedabad in the beginning of 2017

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Nurses set up a mosquito tent over a hospital bed, as part of a precautionary protocol for patients who are infected by Zika at Farrer Park Hospital in Singapore Sept. 2, 2016 (VOA)

Zika virus strains linked to fetal microcephaly were not found in Rajasthan, the Union Health Ministry said on Saturday.

Microcephaly is a birth defect in which babies are born with extremely small heads.

“Advanced molecular studies of zika virus strains, carried out through Next Generation Sequencing suggest that the known mutations linked to fetal microcephaly and high transmissibility of zika virus in aedes mosquitoes are not present in the current zika virus strain that has affected Rajasthan,” a statement by the Ministry said.

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Aedes aegypti mosquitos, potential carriers of the Zika virus, are photographed in a laboratory at the University of El Salvador, in San Salvador, Feb. 3, 2016. Researchers have found that during the height of the viral epidemic the incidence of the paralytic illness Guillain-Barre was 100 times the number of cases usually seen.(VOA)

It said the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) had sequenced five zika virus strains collected at different time points of the Jaipur outbreak, which has affected 135 persons.

However, the government is maintaining high vigil of the possibility of adverse pregnancy outcomes in women exposed to zika virus as the strain may mutate in future or some other unknown host factors may play a role in microcephaly and other birth defects.

The Ministry said the situation is being reviewed on a daily basis.

Around 2,000 samples were tested for zika virus, of which 159 positive cases have been confirmed.

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FILE – A worker of the Ministry of Public Health and Population fumigates in the street against mosquito breeding to prevent diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 15, 2016. VOA

“Adequate numbers of testing kits have been provided to the Viral Research and Diagnostic Laboratories,” the statement said.

Rajasthan government has been supplied with Information, Education and Communication (IEC) material to create awareness about zika virus disease and its prevention strategies.

All pregnant mothers in the area are being monitored through National Health Mission (NHM). Extensive surveillance and vector control measures are being taken up in the area as per protocol by the state government.

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FILE – A mother holds her son who is 4-months old and born with microcephaly, in Olinda, near Recife, Brazil, Feb. 11, 2016. Researcher Carlos Pardo says that during the height of the Zika outbreak the magnitude of the paralytic disease Guillain-Barre was similar to that of microcephaly but went underreported. (VOA)

Zika virus disease is an emerging disease currently being reported by 86 countries worldwide. Symptoms of zika virus disease are similar to other viral infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache.

Also Read: Indian Supreme Court Allows Only Green Firecrackers

In India, the first outbreak was reported in Ahmedabad in the beginning of 2017 and the second in July 2017 from Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu.

It is no longer a Public Health Emergency of International Concern vide World Health Organization’s notification issued on November 18, 2016. (IANS)