As countries in South and Central America grapple with the Zika virus which has been linked to microcephaly— a birth defect where babies are born with smaller heads which limits brain development — India is preparing for any intrusion of the virus.
The Union health ministry is in the process of getting testing kits for detecting the virus which is spread by the bite of Aedes Aegypti mosquito that also spreads dengue, a disease that has a high prevalence in India.
“We are in the process of procuring testing kits for detecting Zika virus. The government is also writing to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to know more about the infection and prepare accordingly,” said a senior official from the Zoonosis unit of the union ministry of health and family welfare. Sources said the ministry is also establishing protocols to keep a close watch on any “sudden rise” in birth defects in any region of the country.
Reliable sources in the ministry said that in a couple of days, the files regarding the procurement of buying the testing kits will be cleared. India’s preparedness is not unwarranted as Pan American Health Organisation stated that the body anticipates that the virus will con- tinue to spread and will likely reach all regions where Aedes mosquitoes are found. .
In the past two weeks, the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune has prepared itself to offer testing for Zika virus detection. “NIV has molecular test ready, if needed Zika virus suspected acute samples can be tested,” said DT Mourya, director of NIV. When asked about India’s vulnerability to the virus, Dr Mourya cited the example of Yellow Fever which, like Zika, is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
“We have Aedes Aegypti but for ages we don’t have Yellow fever in India. This virus never got introduced in India and never got established as public health problem even in Asia. Similarly, a similar prediction can be made at this moment about Zika virus,” said Dr Mourya. Maharashtra’s health department is waiting for guidelines from the centre on the disease. “We discussed Zika virus in our epidemiology meeting. As we have the vector that spreads the virus it is better to be prepared for any sporadic cases,” said a senior state health official.