World facing Zika virus threat, warns WHO; India readies testing kits
Geneva/New Delhi: The Zika virus is 'spreading explosively' in the Americas and can infect upto 4 million people, the WHO warned today.
The WHO also issued a warning to all countries, including India, who have the vector of Aedes mosquito that also causes Dengue and Chikungunya.
The outbreak began in Brazil last year and has now spread to 24 countries in the Americas, causing serious birth defects and other neurological problems like microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with an abnormally small head.
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said that although there is no definitive proof that the Zika virus is behind the spike in brain defects in Brazil, 'the level of alarm is extremely high'.
Dr Marcos Espinal, Director of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis at WHO, said, "Zika will go everywhere the mosquito is. We should assume that. We should not wait for it to spread."
Zika originated in Africa
The Zika virus is caused by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito that also causes Dengue and Chikungunya - both the viral diseases are of great public health concern to tropical countries like India.
The Zika virus was first discovered in Africa in 1947. But until last year, when it was found in Brazil, it had never been a threat in the Western Hemisphere.
Chan also announced a special meeting next week to decide if they should declare an international health emergency. She also expressed concern over the potential of global spread of the disease, owing to the large geographical spread of the Aedes mosquito.
Bruce Aylward, Assistant Director-General, WHO, also warned that the virus could spread to other places wherever there is Aedes mosquitoes.
"What we have to assume is anywhere where they have the Aedes (mosquitoes), they could have the Zika virus and they should have the tools to be able to look for it," he said.
"So, that's part of the reason we are trying to get the information out to countries that have got the vector but may not yet have the virus - look now for the virus," he added.
Such is the level of alarm that many American countries like El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador have urged women to postpone pregnancy till 2018.
Complicating matters further, the Olympics in 2016 is to be held in Rio, the epicenter of the virus outbreak. The concern is also related to lack of immunity of the population that are unexposed to the Zika virus.
Additionally, there are no vaccines, specific treatments, and rapid diagnostic tests, available to combat the virus.
India prepares for Zika 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 mosquito.
In the past two weeks, the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune has prepared itself to offer testing for Zika virus detection.
"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," a senior official said.
Reports say the Ministry is also establishing protocols to keep a close watch on any 'sudden rise' in birth defects in any region of the country.
With PTI Inputs