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NEW DELHI : Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune have raised an alarm about the silent spread of the zika virus across eight states and union territories where it had never been reported earlier, establishing local transmission of the disease in India.

According to an NIV research report published in Frontiers of Microbiology, the virus, spread by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes has now been found in Delhi, Amritsar (Punjab), Aligarh & Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh), Jaipur and Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Pune (Maharashtra), Ranchi (Jharkhand) Hyderabad (Telangana) and Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), places which have a high population density.

Scientists fear there will be an increase in the number of zika cases during monsoon, when vector-borne diseases soar.

Scientists screened around 1,520 patients’ samples, out of which 67 were found to be positive for zika, three of which were cases of co-infection. Zika and dengue co-infection were found in two cases while zika, chikungungya and dengue was observed in one case, but no history of inter-state travel or contact with a zika positive traveller could be found.

Apart from this, samples from 121 patients were dengue-positive while 10 were chikungunya positive. Dual positivity of dengue and chikungunya was observed in five cases.

All 67 zika positive cases were symptomatic with fever and rashes. About 13.43% patients were hospitalized while 86.56% (58) of the cases were managed on an outpatient basis. Four patients from Rajasthan (1), Telangana (2) and Kerala (1) faced serious respiratory distress, one patient had seizures and one case of suspected mild microcephaly at birth was reported from Kerala respectively.

According to scientists, the suspected case of microcephaly was detected in Thiruvananthapuram, when a pregnant mother delivered a pre-term (35 weeks) baby girl weighing 1.68 kg (small for gestational age) in July last year. The baby was a suspect case of microcephaly as her head circumference at birth was 28 cm, which is below the desirable circumference. According to Indian standards for fetal biometry, head circumference at 35 weeks is 30 cm.

After 2020, public health surveillance of zika virus could not be continued with the same vigour due to the covid-19 outbreak, said Dr. Pragya Yadav, senior scientist, ICMR- NIV. “But we stored the samples for zika testing for the future. Since these outbreaks were reported from distant locations over a period of six months last year, we conducted a retrospective screening of zika from May to October to understand the extent of the spread of disease in India," Yadav said.

“Our research revealed the circulation of zika virus in New Delhi, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Telangana states of India in 2021 in addition to Kerala, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. Co-infection of zika and dengue and chikungunya were another concern in many places," Dr Yadav said.

Dr. Nivedita Gupta, epidemiology & communicable disease chief and in-charge Virology, ICMR noted that there is an urgent need for active surveillance to track the spread of Zika virus to understand its impact on the health system. Zika virus has started spreading to newer places in India where it was not reported earlier is a cause of concern. She added that facilities should be created for newborn birth defect screening at the Zika surveillance sites in the country to understand the spectrum of ZVD in babies born to Zika-infected mothers.

 

 

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