Kerala Now Has 19 Cases of Zika Virus. How Is India Dealing With the Spread?
The virus was first discovered in a rhesus monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947 and subsequently in humans in 1952. The Zika virus belongs to a family of viruses called the flavivirus — other known viruses that are part of the family include dengue and chikungunya. According to the World Health Organization, the Zika virus is primarily transmitted by the infected Aedes mosquitos that bite during the day.
“Zika virus is also transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy, through sexual contact, transfusion of blood and blood products, and organ transplantation,” the WHO states.
This isn’t India’s first tryst with the infection. In 2016 and 2017, people in Gujarat had tested positive for the virus, which was also identified in Tamil Nadu the same year. In 2018, more than 120 people in Madhya Pradesh and about 150 people in Rajasthan were infected. In the latter instance, government officials carried out a door-to-door survey of more than 90,000 households to locate and stamp out breeding spots for mosquitos causing it.
At present, India’s health ministry has sent a six-member team to Kerala to assess the situation. State authorities in Kerala, too, have taken cognizance of the outbreak. “We have started a vigorous vector control program and the whole state was alerted. We are monitoring the situation closely and more testing labs will be opened,” Kerala’s health ministry said in a statement.
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In the meantime, the Tamil Nadu government is screening people traveling into the state from Kerala for the Zika virus. So far, they haven’t detected the virus in the state. Karnataka, too, has asked districts bordering Kerala to be more vigilant — besides instructing officials to intensify vector control measures to reduce the growth and breeding of the vectors; mosquitos in this case.
The virus isn’t typically fatal. The infection manifests as fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and headaches — lasting around two to seven days. “People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. Once a person has been infected with Zika, they are likely to be protected from future infections,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states.
However, the Zika virus can lead to long-term effects in children infected while still in their mothers’ womb — resulting in stunted growth, smaller heads, and seizures. Zika virus infections have also been linked to the occurrence a rare auto-immune disease called the Guillain-Barre syndrome, where the body’s immune system attacks its own nerves, spreading quickly and, in some cases, resulting in paralysis. However, experts can’t quite explain this observed association and are investigating it further.
There is no specific treatment or cure for Zika virus infections yet, but according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, six vaccines against the virus are currently at different stages of trial.
Until scientists devise treatments and vaccines against the virus, the prevailing advice seems to be vector control, safe sex, and avoiding being bitten by mosquitos in the daytime by whatever means possible.