Zika infections could be an unrecognized cause of miscarriages and stillbirths

New Delhi, 7th July 2018: According to a new study, pregnancy loss due to Zika infections that do not show any symptoms may be a common but unrecognized cause of miscarriages and stillbirths. Zika virus is widely known for causing children to be born with a brain abnormality called microencephaly and other malformations. Zika disease in human adults includes fever, rash, headache, joint and muscle pain, as well as red eyes. However, most are asymptomatic.

In another finding, it has been explained that India’s Zika is genetically distinct from two other pathogenic global strains — African and Asian — as it is unable to efficiently infect mosquitoes. However, if this Zika strain mutates to more efficiently infect mosquitoes, it could become a major public health problem in the future — in the same way that chikungunya re-emerged in India after years of dormancy.

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee, Dr K K Aggarwal, President, Heart Care Foundation of India, said, “Just like dengue, malaria, and chikungunya, Zika is a major public health concern. Many people infected with Zika virus do not feel sick. If a mosquito bites an infected person while the virus is still in that person’s blood, it can spread the virus by biting another person. The virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to the fetus and cause microcephaly and other severe brain anomalies in infants. In adults, it can lead to Gullain-Barre syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks nerves, leading to several complications. There is no vaccine for Zika virus infection. Protection against mosquito bites is very important. People traveling to high-risk areas, especially pregnant women, should take protection from mosquito bites.

Zika became a worldwide threat in 2015, when babies in Brazil were born with microcephaly. WHO had then declared it a global health emergency.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also the Vice President of CMAAO, said, “The need of the hour is enhanced surveillance against the virus and its spread to areas within the country: community-based and at international airports and ports to track cases of acute febrile illness. While awareness needs to be created about the disease, the public needs to be reassured that there is no cause for undue concern if any cases are detected.”

On 15 May 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare-Government of India reported three laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika virus disease in Bapunagar area, Ahmedabad District, Gujarat, State, India. The routine laboratory surveillance detected a laboratory-confirmed case of Zika virus disease through RT-PCR test at BJ Medical College, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The aetiology of this case has been further confirmed through a positive RT-PCR test and sequencing at the national reference laboratory, National Institute of Virology, Pune on 4 January 2017.  Two additional cases, have then been identified through the Acute Febrile Illness (AFI) and the Antenatal clinic (ANC) surveillance.

This report is important as it describes the first cases of Zika virus infections and provides evidence on the circulation of the virus in India. These findings suggest low level transmission of Zika virus and new cases may occur in the future. Efforts to strengthen surveillance should be maintained in order to better characterize the intensity of the viral circulation and geographical spread, and monitor Zika virus related complications.

The risk of further spread of Zika virus to areas where the competent vectors, the Aedes mosquitoes, are present is significant given the wide geographical distribution of these mosquitoes in various regions of the world.

Some tips from HCFI

  • Stay inside when the Aedes are most active. They bite during the daytime, in the very early morning, and in the few hours before sunset.
  • Buildings with screens and air conditioning are safest.
  • Wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when you go outside.
  • Ensure that rooms are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering.
  • Wear bug spray or cream that contains DEET or a chemical called picaridin.