The presence of the vector and the virus together makes India extremely vulnerable to Zika
The Zika virus has made repeated appearances across India in 2021. By now, some 100 cases have been reported from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh since the first case on October 23.
In July, a laboratory-confirmed case was reported from a village in Maharashtra. Before this, in June, a pregnant woman in Kerala was admitted in a private hospital with symptoms similar to Zika infection. The state authorities found that 11.9 per cent of the 590 blood samples tested were positive for Zika virus.
This is the first time that the virus is being reported in such abundance in the country since 2016, when it was also reported from 48 countries and territories in the Americas. There were more than 532,000 suspected cases and 175,063 confirmed cases.
Zika is not good news. Though this virus usually causes mild fever, aches, rashes and conjunctivitis, sometimes, it can lead to microcephaly (a condition of underdeveloped heads and brain defects) in children born to women who suffered from the infection during pregnancy. The virus also seems to have a link with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a progressive neurological disease that causes paralysis.
Till 2016, India had maintained that the virus was not isolated from the country. On May 26, 2017, the World Health Organization informed that three cases were isolated from Bapunagar in Ahmedabad district, Gujarat. One of them had been sick since 2016.
The disease receded naturally and by 2017, even WHO stopped updating information on the global spread of the virus.
But India could have taken more care, considering the vector for this disease, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are abundant in the country. These are the same mosquitoes that transmits the dengue virus and the disease has been reported widely in the country. In September 2021, Kanpur had reported more than 100 cases of dengue.
The presence of the vector and the virus together makes India extremely vulnerable to Zika and the country could have taken steps to reduce the risk.
Unfortunately, controlling the vector is difficult with both climate change and urbanisation creating new pockets for vector proliferation. Even WHO’s draft Zika Virus Research and Development Roadmap released for comments in February 2021, focuses on developing effective diagnostics, therapeutic agents and vaccines for the virus, and not on vector control.
Mosquito control has simple solutions. One of them is to remove places where the vector can breed. Every person can mosquito-proof their houses and government authorities can do the same in public places.
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