Monday October 22, 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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Star ICC Asks Anonymous Accuser Of Sexual Assault Charges To Step Forward

The accuser said that while she was at the company, there were "clear instructions" given to make the sales team fulfil the targets.

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Star ICC
#MeToo: Star India internal panel writes to anonymous accuser to come forward

The Internal Complaints Committee of Star India on Sexual Harassment (Star ICC) has written to the anonymous accuser — who had alleged “sexual exploitation” of women employees — asking her to reach out to the committee or its external member on allegations made by her in tweets.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Star ICC, formed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 said it had reached out to the accuser through two emails on the ID provided by her through her tweets. The committee’s external member is Veena Gowda, a Mumbai-based woman rights lawyer.

The accuser, who tweeted through handle @ApurvaS17 — saying she would remain anonymous — had made sexual harassment allegations against the company’s officials in an open letter.

Star ICC
Star believes that the allegations made in the tweet without the complainant coming forward and giving any further detail, is a malicious attempt.

Asked to comment on the allegations, a Star India spokesperson said in a statement that despite no response by the anonymous accuser to the messages sent, the Star ICC had “suo moto conducted a preliminary inquiry and found no basis or factual accuracy” in respect of the allegations.

“We strongly urge any genuine complainant to approach the Star ICC. At Star, we stand with women in drawing the line on any behaviour that violates human dignity or the ability for women to pursue their dreams with respect and freedom. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment,” read the statement in response to an email query by IANS.

It also said that the anonymous tweet shared on October 13 raised an allegation that “runs completely counter to everything we believe in and the norms and values that we deeply embrace.”

The statement further said: “Star believes that the allegations made in the tweet without the complainant coming forward and giving any further detail, is a malicious attempt to malign and defame the reputation of the company and the CEO.” It said that Star reserves its right to initiate appropriate legal proceedings in this regard.

Star ICC
The Star ICC had “suo moto conducted a preliminary inquiry and found no basis or factual accuracy.

The accuser in her tweets had said that the #MeToo movement had encouraged her to come forward and that she had quit her job at Star India in the Airtime Sales section after 26 months and nine days and was now a homemaker, “taking care of my baby and hubby in a beautiful country, far away from Mumbai.”

The accuser said that while she was at the company, there were “clear instructions” given to make the sales team fulfil the targets in case they want to continue with their employment contract, “for which even if you have to take the clients to a hotel room and sleep with them for days.”

She said there were many instances when she and three of her female colleagues (interns) had clear instructions to reach a hotel after office hours for a private party hosted for influential friends.

Also Read: India’s Junior Foreign Minister M.J. Akbar Quits Following #MeToo Harassment Allegation By Women

She says the influential friends were “mostly bureaucrats and sometimes politicians and foreign nationals” who were “all ready to violate you, force you to dance against your wishes, drink with them, make drink(s) for them, exchange your numbers and even quietly accompany them to their respective rooms if they want you to”.

Veteran writer-director Vinta Nanda, who earlier this month accused actor Alok Nath of sexually violating her 19 years ago, wrote on Twitter: “I’m neither shocked nor surprised. I salute your courage to have come out and spoken out. The rot runs deep.” (IANS)