Zika virus is a viral disease caused by the bite of an Aedes mosquito. It is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae and the genus Flavivirus. Its name is derived from the Zika forest of Uganda. In 2015, the virus outbreak had reached epidemic levels. WHO has declared it as a global health emergency. It has spread to South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In such a scenario, should India be worried about Zika virus?
It has been considered as ‘the epidemic in the making’ and has affected around 4000 babies in the last few months in countries of South America. This virus can be transmitted sexually too. Pregnant women if infected can spread the virus into the amniotic fluid causing the infection.
As the virus is circulating, the pattern indicates that India could be a potential host for virus as the climatic conditions are similar to sub tropical and tropical America. Zika virus has been considered as the cousin of dengue virus that is prevalent in India. Infact Aedes mosquito is the common factor in Zika, dengue and chikunguniya. So far India is considered to be free of this virus and even if it does not have, the growth of other two diseases shows that it could spread. Indian authorities though have warned pregnant women against travelling to countries that have been affected by the virus. This is due to the fact that recently born babies in Brazil have small heads where the disease has become almost epidemic.
The country has witnessed the spread of Zika virus in the 1950s as per the study conducted by National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune. The NIV team had published a paper in the year 1953 after testing fifteen insect-borne diseases with which they came in contact with and Zika was one of them. People travelling from countries like El Salvador, Brazil can bring it here. Around 20% of the people infected show symptoms; someone might carry it without knowing that they are infected. If an Aedes mosquito bites an infected person, it spreads to other people by biting them.
In general, people should avoid travelling to countries where the infection is widespread and should take precautions against mosquito bites as well by making use of insect repellents and mosquito nets. Mosquito breeds on stagnant water so that should not be allowed.