Kerala is on alert after detecting at least 15 cases of the Zika virus. Health Minister Veena George said the state’s first ever infection was reported in a 24-year-old pregnant woman, a native of Parassala in Thiruvananthapuram, after which at least 14 cases were found. All the patients are being treatment and are in stable condition.
All district administrations have been told to keep a close eye on cases of mosquito bites, and conduct fumigation drives. The Health Minister will hold a meeting with officials to assess the situation.
Zika is a viral infection, spread by mosquitoes. The vector is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue and chikungunya. Additionally, infected people can transmit Zika sexually. First identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys, Zika was detected in humans five years later. Sporadic cases have been reported throughout the world since the 1960s, but the first outbreak happened only in 2007 in the Island of Yap in the Pacific. In 2015, a major outbreak in Brazil led to the revelation that Zika can be associated with microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with small and underdeveloped brains.
Fears around Zika primarily involve microcephaly, especially when pregnant women are infected. Generally, the virus is not considered dangerous to anyone other than pregnant women. Some countries that have had a Zika outbreak, including Brazil, reported a steep increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome — a neurological disorder that could lead to paralysis and death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In 2017, following a study on Brazil’s confirmed cases, the US National Institutes of Health study estimated the fatality rate at 8.3 per cent.
Most people infected with the virus do not develop symptoms. When they are manifested, the symptoms are similar to those of flu, including fever bodyache, headache etc. If the symptoms worsen, people should seek medical advice. Additional symptoms can include the occasional rash like in dengue, while some patients also have conjunctivitis. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) of Zika virus disease is estimated to be 3-14 days.
Zika has no treatment or vaccine. The symptoms of Zika virus are mild and usually require rest, consumption of plenty of fluids, and common pain and fever medicines, the WHO says.
In India, Zika virus was first recorded in 1952-53. The latest major outbreak was in 2018, when 80 cases were reported in Rajasthan around the months of September and October. Prior to this, three cases were detected in Bapunagar area in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad district in May 2017. One case was also reported from Krishnagiri district on Tamil Nadu in July 2017.
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Governments take mosquito control measures such as spraying of pesticides, use of repellents etc. Because of the possibility of congenital abnormalities and sexual transmission, there is also focus on contraceptives. The WHO requires countries to counsel sexually active men and women on the matter to minimise chances of conception at the time of an outbreak.