We are susceptible because of three reasons.
Reason one is the vectors that transmit the virus are very prevalent in India. The Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus and is the same mosquito that carries the dengue and chikungunya.
Reason two: There is one study published in 1954 in India which had shown through serum surveys that the samples they have tested are positive for antibodies to the virus. These are neutralising antibodies which are very specific for Zika virus. So, probably, Zika virus is already there in India.
The third aspect is whether there has been a fresh introduction of this virus. We do not know the answer as yet unless we test for it.
The National Institute of Virology, Pune, had tested some samples that were negative for dengue and chikungunya because the illness that Zika presents itself with is fever, rash all over the body, joint pain and redness in the eyes. Very limited number of samples was tested and those were negative. Unless we do large scale testing, we will not know whether Zika is active or not active in India.
In terms of susceptibility of the population to the virus, yes, it is a threat. Anytime, an introduction can happen because of global travel that occurs. There is a lot of traffic between India and South American countries. So, there is a possibility of its introduction. I don’t want to sound alarm bells but it is there. Yes, there is a risk.
If somebody who travels to South American countries gets bitten by the mosquito and returns. And, then a mosquito bites this person and the same mosquito bites a local resident, does this local person get infected by the Zika virus ?
There is an incubation period. It is about a week. After the mosquito bites, the virus has to multiply, initially, at the site of the bite and then enter the blood stream. It is only then that the symptoms start appearing. This whole process usually takes about a week.
Does the woman have to be pregnant to pick up the virus ?
No. Everybody is susceptible. It is not necessary that only the pregnant woman picks it up. Even other women can pick it up. The problem is if the woman is three months pregnant, the baby will be malformed and will have a small head.
What about other adults?
The symptoms are the same, whether it is a man or a woman. They are fever, rash on the body, joint pains and redness in the eye. In some of the adults, they can develop neurological complications. The Gullian-Barre syndrome is reported from the French Polynesian Islands and also from Brazil. It is a neurological disorder that occurs following several virus infections. It is an auto- immune disease where the body starts attacking its own nerves. It causes paralysis and loss of movement in the lower limbs. It can happen to anybody due to virus infection. Even in Zika virus, it is noted.
What if the mosquito bites a woman who is not pregnant – is there a possibility of her baby also being malformed when she gets pregnant later
No. This is an acute infection. The virus is cleared from the body as per the information we have presently. It is not that a woman had Zika virus today and if she becomes pregnant in 2018, she will have a malformed baby. If the woman, who gets this virus infection when she is three months pregnant, only then can developmental abnormalities occur in the foetus.
If that happens, medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) is possible?
Up to three months, MTP is possible. But, then, it is a decision that is to be taken entirely by the family, rather, the mother.
How do you fight Zika virus?
You cannot. You should be very aware and avoid getting bitten by a mosquito. If anyone develops symptoms, they will have to seek medical help. Everybody who returns from South America need not undergo a test but if there are symptoms, as described earlier, then it is imperative to get tested for Zika virus. There are no anti-viral drugs. Nothing is available anywhere in the world. It is the only symptomatic treatment that is available. There is no drug or vaccine as of now for Zika.
So, the only precaution is avoid getting bitten by a mosquito?
Yes, it ultimately boils down to that. And, you must be aware of the symptoms of this infection. You need to look out for fever, rash on the body, joint pains and redness in the eyes so that you can get tested immediately.