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Zika virus cases surge as rain falls in Pune

The Zika virus infection in Pune has raised concerns about India's ability to diagnose emerging infectious diseases. India reported its first Zika case from Gujarat State in 2016.

By Jyotsna Richhariya
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At least eight people, including 2 pregnant women, tested positive for the Zika virus. The rising dengue cases have led to an increase in hospital admissions, said city doctors. Dr Shilpa Kulkarni, intensivist, at Ruby Hall Clinic, told TOI, "We are witnessing a surge in dengue cases, particularly affecting individuals aged 20-40 years. The hospital has observed an increase in dengue patients presenting with high-grade fever and a gradual drop in platelet count. Other symptoms include patients experiencing high fever, severe headaches, loss of appetite, and mild abdominal pain." 

On Wednesday, the Union Health Ministry issued an Advisory to States in view of Zika virus cases from Maharashtra. States urged to maintain a state of constant vigil through screening of pregnant women for Zika virus infection and monitoring the growth of foetuses of expecting mothers who tested positive for Zika. Health facilities/hospitals to identify a nodal officer to monitor and act to keep the premises Aedes mosquito free. States to strengthen entomological surveillance and intensify vector control activities in residential areas, workplaces, schools, construction sites, institutions and health facilities. States were also urged to immediately report any detected case to Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) and National Center for Vector Borne Diseases Control (NCVBDC).

Zika testing facility is available at National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune; National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Delhi and a few selected virus research and diagnostic laboratories of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

India reported its first Zika case from Gujarat State in 2016. Since then, many other States namely Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Karnataka have reported cases subsequently. In 2024 (till 2nd July), Maharashtra reported eight cases from Pune (6), Kolhapur (1) and Sangamner (1).

Dr. Kalpana Baliwant, health officer for the Pune Municipal Corporation spoke to Ground Report on the current situation,

“We are rigorously inspecting the areas of the current cases and testing people for Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya.”

The authorities have increased their surveillance in the affected areas. The Zika virus infection in Pune has raised concerns about India's ability to diagnose emerging infectious diseases. After experiencing symptoms such as fever and rashes, the 46-year-old doctor was admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with Zika virus infection after sending his samples to the Apex Virology Institute. Subsequent tests on his family members indicated that his 15-year-old daughter was also afflicted.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus primarily spread by Aedes mosquitoes, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The Zika virus disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito, which is also known to transmit infections like dengue and chikungunya. First identified in humans in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania in 1952, Zika virus outbreaks have occurred in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific. The Aedes mosquitoes usually bite during the day, during early mornings and late afternoon or evening, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“It is the same mosquito that causes Zika virus, chikungunya and dengue, we are ensuring to test patients with all possibilities of vector-borne diseases,” Dr Baliwant added. 

She informed Ground Report that a 28-year-old pregnant woman from Erandwane tested positive for the Zika virus. Her results came back positive on Friday. On Monday, another 12-week-old pregnant woman was found to have the virus. Both women are healthy and free of symptoms.

Zika virus in pregnant women may cause microcephaly (a condition in which the head is significantly smaller due to abnormal brain development) in the foetus as well as other neurological disorders in the baby, some of which may manifest as the child grows up. 

Necessary Precautions

The most effective strategy to avoid Zika virus infection is to avoid mosquito bites. This includes using mosquito repellant, wearing long-sleeved clothing, removing stagnant water, and remaining in air-conditioned or screened-in locations. Pregnant women or those who intend to get pregnant are frequently advised to postpone travel to areas with active Zika transmission. Safe sex (the use of condoms) can help prevent the virus from being transmitted sexually. Blood screening and testing lower the likelihood of transmission during blood transfusions.

“Incidents of waterlogging, flooding, trees falling and other situations arise in the city due to excess rain or heavy showers. Various civic departments including those of sewages, roads, gardens, fire control and ward offices are involved in managing the situation as per the requirement,” said municipal commissioner Rajendra Bhosale. 

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