A 50-year-old woman from Purandar tehsil in Pune district has been confirmed as the first confirmed case of Zika virus infection in Maharashtra. Before this, about 60 people in Kerala have been found to be infected with this virus.
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, the emergence of Zika virus has added to the pressure on the health surveillance system which is already on high alert.
The initial stages of Zika virus infection correspond to some of the clinical symptoms of SARS-CoV2 infection and hence can make the diagnosis a challenging one, experts have written in the Journal of Medical Virology in April this year. However, while Zika virus disease and Covid19 share some similarities, the vectors, transmission and epidemiology are different.
Zika virus disease is an emerging viral disease transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This is the same mosquito that is known to transmit infections like dengue and chikungunya.
Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. During large outbreaks in French Polynesia and Brazil in 2013 and 2015 respectively, national health authorities had reported potential neurological and auto-immune complications of Zika virus disease.
The symptoms are similar to those caused by other arbovirus infections such as dengue, and include fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headache. These symptoms are usually mild and last for 2-7 days. Only one out of four infected people develops symptoms of the disease.
National Institute of Virology experts have said the Zika virus can be of concern and work was underway to understand which strain was in circulation in India. The Zika virus can occur in local outbreaks. It was only in 2015 that Zika was found to be associated with microcephaly in children born to mothers infected with this virus during pregnancy.
The first case of Zika virus was reported in India in 2017 in Gujarat and later in Tamil Nadu. Large outbreaks took place in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh later in 2018.
Prevention is the key
Aedes mosquitoes and their breeding sites pose a significant risk factor for Zika virus infection. Prevention and control relies on reducing mosquitoes through source reduction (removal and modification of breeding sites) and reducing contact between mosquitoes and people. For source reduction of mosquito breeding, it is important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places, where mosquitoes can breed, are removed.
During outbreaks, spraying of insecticides should be carried out as per guidelines of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme. Experts have written in the Journal of Medical Virology that with regard to Covid 19, it is necessary to reinforce the importance of adherence to social distance and hygiene measures.
In relation to arboviruses, it is necessary to prevent the transmission of the virus and to fight the vector mosquitoes through simple measures such as regular emptying and cleaning of water containers and fumigation throughout the community.