NEW DELHI: India has initiated research on impact of Zika virus on infected pregnant women in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where cases of virus outbreaks were reported last year.

India’s apex research organization Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday said that the study is being rolled out in Rajasthan in first week of April and in Bhopal by the end of April. “ICMR has initiated a study to understand the outcomes of pregnancy of women infected with Zika and also the occurrence of conginital Zika Syndrome (CZS) as well as other neurological malformations in their newborns," a senior ICMR official said. “Attempts are also being made to expedite the Phase II Zika vaccine clinical trials of Bharat Biotech International Ltd," the official said.

According to ICMR, the Zika virus strain isolated from Rajasthan matches with the Brazilian Zika strain associated with outbreaks, and microcephaly or CZS. In this regard, the ICMR-National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, has also initiated animal studies (on mice) to understand the potential of this virus to cause microcephaly or CZS. Preliminary reports suggest the absence of one known mutation linked with microcephaly. However, further characterization of the strain is required as rnicrocephaly or CZS has several attributable causes, the official said.

Between September to November 2018, India witnessed outbreaks of Zika virus disease in Jaipur as well as Bhopal and its neighboring districts in Madhya Pradesh. Both the outbreaks were contained through prompt public health interventions.

According to the ministry of health and family welfare, no fresh cases of Zika virus disease have been reported from both the states since end of November 2018. Also, as of now, no cases of Zika virus disease are being reported from any part of the country. And, human surveillance for Zika virus disease in India will be continued, the government has said.

In December 2018, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA, issued a travel health notice on Zika virus in India. The travel advisory depicted that India has an ongoing outbreak of Zika virus disease in Rajasthan and its surrounding States. The advisory further cautioned pregnant women not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika outbreaks. Women planning pregnancy were also alerted on travel.

Because, such an advisory could have had serious implications on travel and trade in India, Balram Bhargava, secretary, Department of Health Research, union health ministry and director general-ICMR wrote to CDC to withdraw or modify the travel advisory providing evidence of the contained outbreak in India. The CDC rectified the advisory accordingly after India pointed out the issue.

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