The Union health ministry will get strains of the Zika virus from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), United States, to test the efficiency of testing kits available in India. The CDC is expected to send the samples next week to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
Indian authorities are preparing themselves for any eventuality as Aedes Aegypti, the species of mosquito which is known to spread the Zika virus, is present in the country. “Once the samples arrive, our institutes will be able to research on the testing mechanisms,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief of ICMR. “So far, the testing conducted on 300-odd blood samples has not detected the presence of the virus in India,” he added.
When the human body is invaded by a virus, the body produces antibodies to fight the pathogen. Doctors will have look for antibodies in the blood to detect Zika virus in a person’s body and confirm its presence.
Increasing evidence coming from several countries have established a possible link between the virus and microcephaly — a condition where a child is born with a smaller head than usual. Doctors suggest that pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are at the risk of giving birth to a child with microcephaly.
Brazil — the epicentre of a current outbreak — has confirmed 725 cases of microcephaly linked to the mosquito-borne virus. A child, who is born with a head circumference less than 31.5-32 cm at birth, is classified as a microcephaly case. Doctors said that the smaller size of the head restricts the growth of brain, damaging it.
However, doctors are sceptical on whether India is prepared to fight an outbreak. “What happens if we detect the Zika virus in a person who does not have any symptoms? We need to have guideline on handling cases first,” said Dr Om Shrivastav, infectious disease consultant, Saifee Hospital, Charni Road. “Antibodies produced by the virus are not always exclusive to a particular virus, there is always a risk of overlapping which can lead to an inaccurate interpretation,” he added.
The National Institute of Virology and the NCDC Laboratory in Delhi are equipped to test blood samples of any person suspected of having Zika infection. Mumbai’s Kasturba Hospital laboratory personnel will be trained by NIV to do the tests in the coming days.