What Pregnant Women in India Need to Know About the Zika Virus
A Zika outbreak has been reported in India, the third time in less than two years. In the past few weeks, the virus has been detected in more than a 100 people in Rajasthan, of which, on last count, 25 were pregnant women. Bihar has been put on alert, too. And in February of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO), put India in category 2 in the classification of Zika’s prevalence, which indicates an ongoing transmission of the virus.
Zika is spread when an infected Aedes mosquito bites someone. It can also be transmitted sexually, because the virus can stay in an infected man’s semen for months. Most people experience only mild, flu- or dengue-like illness, with a small risk of neurological complications.
But for pregnant women, the virus can cause severe birth defects such microcephaly – a condition in which babies are born with underdeveloped heads. (Microcephaly can lead to delays in speech, poor vision, seizures and even cognitive difficulties. It can also cause blindness and deafness.) And the babies of pregnant women who get infected with Zika virus in the first trimester of pregnancy are at an even higher risk of being born with microcephaly.
So, how much do pregnant women in India need to worry about Zika virus?
What’s the situation with Zika virus in India?
On 8 October 2018, two weeks after the first case in India was detected, India’s health ministry said the outbreak as well as “all pregnant mothers in the area are being monitored.”
It’s difficult to do more; the best and easiest way to detect a Zika infection is to test for the virus while a person is still symptomatic. Given that Zika typically causes only mild flu- or dengue-like illness, or no symptoms at all, many people who have been infected miss the critical window of seven and 14 days after infection, during which a test would register positive. And the test itself is a bit faulty; if you’ve had a virus related to Zika, such as dengue, the test can produce a false positive.
Hence, there is neither any treatment nor any vaccine for Zika, and doctors can only prescribe common treatments like rest, drinking enough fluids, and treating pain and fever with common medicines to bring it under control.
Despite these drawbacks, good news is that 105 of the approximately 120 people who have so far tested positive for Zika have been treated, according to Rajasthan’s health minister, Kalicharan Saraf, who adds that the state is also doing door-to-door surveys for screening and awareness of the virus as a preventive measure.
Zika virus prevention during pregnancy
The good news for many pregnant women is they’re probably already doing what they need to do to prevent contracting the Zika virus, because guarding against the virus is a lot like guarding against malaria, dengue, or chikungunya: repel and/or kill mosquitoes.
“Basic precautions for protection from mosquito bites should be taken by people traveling to high-risk areas, especially pregnant women,” the WHO advises. “These include use of repellents, wearing light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and ensuring rooms are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering.”
Additionally, ensure that water is not collected anywhere in or outside the house. Common spaces where water gets collected are bird feeders, planters, coolers and flower pots. And one of the best ways to tackle mosquito breeding would be to ensure that fogging and spraying is done in your house and the area that you live in regularly.