Should India Worry About The Zika Virus?

Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has been linked to brain damage in nearly 4,000 newborns in Brazil
Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has been linked to brain damage in nearly 4,000 newborns in Brazil (Associated Press photo)

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus is a type of virus which belongs to the Flavivirus family which is similar to the viruses which cause dengue and chikungunya. It was first discovered in the 1940s. Previously, outbreaks have been reported in Africa, Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands.

How is the Zika virus spread?

The Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of the Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito which can spread dengue. Pregnant women who are infected with the virus can transmit this virus into the amniotic fluid causing infection. There has also been a concern that this virus can be transmitted sexually.

What are the symptoms Zika virus causes?

The most common symptoms of Zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, headache and conjunctivitis. The symptoms can last for up to a week. Only 1 in 5 people infected with the virus show symptoms. Severe illness or death is very rare. People infected with the virus can carry the virus for a 7-10 days. It can be diagnosed with the help of a blood test in which the virus DNA, called RT-PCR is detected.

Why the sudden concern for the Zika virus?

4,000 babies were born with microcephaly in Brazil between October 2015 and January 2016. Although no direct relation was seen, women found to be carrying babies diagnosed with microcephaly were found to have the Zika virus in the amniotic fluid. This has raised the concern that this virus can cause birth defects in newborns.

There is also a concern that this virus can cause another neurological illness called Guillain-Barre syndrome in some people. In this condition the nerve cells get affected causing muscle weakness. Most of the people recover fully from Guillain-Barre syndrome, but this condition can last for a few weeks to several months.

What is microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a rare neuro-developmental disorder in which the size of the head of the child is very small. This causes poor growth of the skull and brain causing problems like delay in speech, hearing loss, seizures, mental retardation and in some severe cases even death.

What is the treatment for Zika virus?

There is no known treatment for Zika virus. It is important to take plenty of rest, drink lots of fluid and avoid medications like ibuprofen or aspirin. If you have any of the above symptoms, then please let your doctor know so you can be tested for the virus.

Is there any vaccine for the Zika virus?

There is no known vaccine currently for the virus.

Can this virus spread to India?

People travelling from countries where the Zika virus is currently present like Brazil, El Salvador etc. can bring in the virus to India. Since only 20% of the people infected with the virus show symptoms, someone might carry the virus without realizing that they are infected. If an Aedes mosquito would bite an infected person, it can spread the virus to other people by biting them.

How long can the infection spread?

During the first week of infection, the Zika virus can be found in the blood of a person. A mosquito who bites this person can then spread the virus to others. So it is crucial to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

What precautions can Indians take?

Pregnant women should avoid travelling to countries where the Zika virus has spread. People in general should avoid travelling to countries where the infection is prevalent. People should also take precautions against mosquito bites by using insect repellents, wearing full sleeved clothes and mosquito nets. Steps should also be taken to prevent stagnant water from standing as this is where this mosquito breeds.

(Dr Sameer Gupta FACC, FSCAI is a practicing Interventional Cardiologist and Vascular Medicine specialist. Dr Sonia Lal Gupta, is a practicing Neurologist who specializes in stroke and headache.)

Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.