According to WHO’s report, “On 15 May 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare-Government of India (MoHFW) reported three laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in Bapunagar area, Ahmedabad District, Gujarat, State, India.” First case was reported in February 2016 in Ahmedabad followed by another case reported in November 2016. Recently, a 37th week pregnant women was tested positive for Zika in January 2016. WHO said these are the very first infections detected in India. They also said the studies suggested a low level of transmission of virus and number of infections may increase in number. WHO assessed the risk and reported “The risk of further spread of Zika virus to areas where the competent vectors, the Aedes mosquitoes, are present is significant given the wide geographical distribution of these mosquitoes in various regions of the world. WHO continues to monitor the epidemiological situation and conduct risk assessment based on the latest available information.”
What is Zika Virus?
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus. It was first identified in Uganda while conducting a study on yellow fever in monkeys at the Zika forest. Hence, the name. Zika virus is spread within the body after a bite from a carrier know as aedes mosquito. The virus enters the blood stream after infecting the skin cells causing rash among some patients. It then affects the blood vessels and destroys the immune system of the body. Zika virus is also known to affect the brain in some cases.
What are the symptoms?
Patients infected with Zika do not show any symptoms in some cases. In most, mild symptoms are observed which are not specific to Zika. This is what makes Zika a scary disease. Patients exhibit symptoms such as mild fever, skin rash, headache, pain the back of the eyes, Joint pain, muscle pain and irritation or redness in the eyes. Symptoms are often not severe to visit a hospital. Zika can also cross-react with other viruses such as dengue and yellow fever and may not be detected with a lab test in some cases. WHO says it is working on developing a confirmatory test for Zika.
How does it Spread?
Zika is primarily spread through mosquito bites. Aedes, a day-dwelling mosquito is responsible for the spread of the infection. Also, mosquitoes biting an infected person turn into carrier leading to the rampant spread of the infection. Zika is also spread from infected mother to the fetus.
What are the preventive measures for Zika?
The primary way to prevent the spread of zika is by controlling the breeding of mosquitoes. Since mosquitoes are the primary carriers, monitoring your surrounding that are breeding sites for such mosquitoes becomes an important measure to prevent infection.
- Make sure no surface is holding stagnant water. Like coconut shells, tyres, broken pipes etc which can become a medium for the mosquitoes to lay eggs.
- Keep your surrounding clean. Rotten garbage too can become a medium for such mosquitoes to breed. Maintain clean and dry environment around you.
- Avoid mosquito bites. Use mosquito repellent sprays and creams. While sleeping, use mosquito nets to be safe.
- Most infection-causing mosquitoes are day dwellers. Be aware of mosquitoes you see during the day.
- If you are travelling to a country with active Zika infections, consult your doctor for preventive medications and shots.
- If you have any doubt that you may have been infected, visit a doctor without delay.
Why should India fear Zika Virus?
Zika virus has spread from South Africa for America in a very few years. Zika virus infections have a very severe impact on unborn babies causing microcephaly. It is a condition where babies are born with a small head and brain. In U.S, 21 such cases were reported. Zika infections in unborn babies can also lead to life-long issues of brain and even cause death. In India, where the community hygiene is poor, Zika spread can be rapid which is very dangerous. If we look at the deaths caused by other mosquito borne diseases such as Malaria, dengue and Chikungunya, we understand that such diseases spread wide and fast in India. Since Zika has no vaccination and has no specific treatment, is a potentially dangerous disease.
In conclusion, awareness for the prevention of Zika virus infection is of priority as cases of infections are now being reported in India. Awareness about community hygiene, spread of virus and also, mosquito bite-prevention methods must be created among all citizens Among people living in slums, spread of such infections are high and they too must be educated about the infection and it’s repercussions.