Centre Forms Group to Monitor Spread of Zika Virus

On the heels of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) statement that the Zika virus was “spreading explosively,” the Centre said it has constituted a special, technical group to monitor the spread of Zika in other countries.

  • The Health Minister emphasised that there should be an increased focus on prevention to control the spread of the Aedes mosquito, which transmits Zika virus.
  • Community awareness plays an instrumental role in this regard.
  • There have been no reports of outbreaks of Zika in India though there is concern that given the ubiquity of air travel, carriers of the virus may arrive in India.

Background: What is Zika virus?

  • The virus gets its name from the Zika forest in Uganda, Africa, where it was first identified in rhesus monkeys in 1947.
  • It was reported in humans in 1952 but was unknown in the Americas until last year.
  • The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also responsible for the spread of dengue and chikungunya.
  • In the last few years, confirmed cases have been reported from Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.

Why is this outbreak alarming?

  • The Zika virus was considered benign until recently when scientists, for the first time in November 2015, linked it to a surge in babies born with microcephaly — an incurable birth defect, they are born with abnormally small heads.
  • According to Brazilian authorities, by the end of the year, Zika could infect over 1.5 million people. Further, the disease is spreading fast and experts believe it could spread to other countries in the Southern hemisphere.
  • Outbreaks have also occurred in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, and the Canadian government have issued travel advisories, warning tourists to protect themselves from mosquito bites.
  • Further, the Brazilian government is advising women to delay pregnancies till the outbreak is under control.

How is it Zika treated?

  • There is no medicine as yet to treat Zika. According to the CDC, the condition can be managed and symptoms treated with patients being put on bed rest, increasing fluid intake and having fever medication.

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