- Brazil says the number of babies born with microcephaly or abnormally small heads since October has now reached nearly 4,000.
- The authorities there believe the increase is caused by an outbreak of Zika virus. Just 150 Brazilian babies were born with microcephaly in 2014
What is ZIRKA VIRUS?
- The Zika virus, an alarming and disturbing infection that may be linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains, is spreading through the Americas.
- The mosquito-borne virus can be deadly or cause intellectual disability and developmental delays.
Where did Zika come from?
- Identified in Uganda in 1947, previous outbreaks were confined to a few small areas in Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands.
- But, in May 2015, it was reported in Brazil.
How does it spread?
- If Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, found throughout the Americas, drink the blood of an infected person they can then infect subsequent people they bite.
- They also spread dengue and chikungunya virus
How dangerous is it?
Deaths are rare and only one in five people infected is thought to develop symptoms. These include:
- mild fever
- conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes)
- joint pain
- a rash
As there is no treatment, the only option is to reduce the risk of being bitten.
Health officials advise people to:
- use insect repellents
- cover up with long-sleeved clothes
- keep windows and doors closed
The mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so people are also being told to empty buckets and flower pots.
The US Centers for Disease Control has advised pregnant women not to travel to affected areas.
What is being done till now?
- The Brazilian Health Minister, Marcelo Castro, has said a new testing kit is being developed to identify infections quickly.
- He also said more money was being put into the development of a vaccine.
- Some scientists are also trialling the use of genetically modified sterile mosquitoes that appear to reduce mosquito populations by 90%.
- Meanwhile, efforts are under way to kill the mosquitoes with insecticide
India forms panel to monitor Zika
- Acting swiftly on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) warning over the spread of Zika virus, India formed a technical group to closely monitor the situation and began an exercise to issue a travel advisory soon.
- The government also decided to strengthen its surveillance system and plan preventive measures with an increased focus on prevention to control the spread of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that breeds in clean water.
- This came at a high-level meeting held here to discuss the recent cases of Zika virus spread being reported from South America and the US and prepare a strategy.
- The meeting, attended by senior doctors from the All India institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) among others, was presided over by Health Minister J P Nadda.
- Aedes Aegypti mosquito carries Zika virus which is suspected to cause brain damage in babies
- Zika virus is also believed to cause neurological problems like microcephaly, a condition of abnormally small head in babies.
- The outbreak began in Brazil last year and has now spread to 24 countries in the Americas.
- The WHO on Thursday issued a warning on the spread of Zika virus to all countries, including India.
- The technical group, to be constituted, will be giving its opinion on what precautionary measures needs to be taken
Zika virus kills cells that form key brain tissue: report
- In what may be the first lab evidence of the potency of the Zika virus, researchers in the United States have found that it severely damages a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brain’s cerebral cortex.
- The findings are significant given that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to decide, within the next few months, whether the Zika virus — historically known to be relatively benign — is indeed wholly responsible for the outbreak of microcephaly, or deformed skulls, in newborns in Brazil and other parts of South America.
- The team of researchers, led by Guo-li Ming and Hongjun Song of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Hengli Tang of Florida State University report in the current edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell that they saw the virus’ destruction, on neuronal cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells.
- What we show is that the Zika virus infects neuronal cells in dish that are counterparts to those that form the cortex during human brain development. We still don’t know at all what is happening in the developing foetus. These findings may correlate with disrupted brain development, but direct evidence for a link between Zika virus and microcephaly is more likely to come from clinical studies
- Several other questions however remain. For instance, why are the symptoms in adults so mild? How is the virus entering the nervous system of the developing foetus?