India Sees Zika Virus for First Time in Kerala, Maharashtra States – Virus Spread Alongside COVID a ‘Rising Concern’
Zika virus under a microscope

Some 70 cases of Zika virus were identified in India’s Kerala State over the course of July – what represents the first cases to be reported in the southern Indian state, said WHO on Thursday.

WHO provided no explanation as to why the report was first published months after the outbreak was initially identified. Subsequently, on 31 July, Maharashtra state also reported its first Zika laboratory-confirmed case, said the WHO’s Disease Outbreak News. Asked by Health Policy Watch why the first WHO report was delayed by five months, a WHO spokesperson said he could not provide an immediate response.

But the report follows warnings by Indian researchers that the spread of Zika virus amid COVID-19 in India represents a ‘rising concern.

The outbreak was first identified on 8 July when a 24-year old pregnant woman near Pune was diagnosed with the virus, said the WHO report.  Subsequent wider testing identified some 70 cases, including four additional pregnant women.

The WHO report followed upon another last week of a new Ebola virus case in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu region – only a few months over the DRC’s last Ebola oubreak was declared over in May.

Zika (ZIKV) can cause large epidemics that strain public health systems, and pose big risks to diagnosis and treatment.  Diagnosis requires sufficient laboratory capacity to differentiate ZIKV disease from illness due to co-circulating aedes mosquito-borne viruses like dengue and chikungunya, according to WHO.

Although 60-80% of the Zika virus infected cases are asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms, ZIKV can cause microcephaly and congenital Zika syndrome (CZS) in newborns and infants. Moreover, although ZIKV is primarily transmitted by the Aedes species mosquitoes, it can also be transmitted from mother to foetus during pregnancy, through sexual contact, transfusion of blood and blood products, and organ transplantation, according to WHO.

A young child infected with Zika virus – affordable, rapid testing remains a challenge.

Zika virus first gained prominence in early 2015 when a major outbreak occurred in Brazil.  It spread rapidly to dozens of other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and in 2016 the outbreak was  declared by WHO to be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

In India, Zika virus disease cases/infections have been detected in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan states in 2018 (South-East Asian lineage).

While this marked the first time that the virus had been detected in the souther state of Kerala, WHO said, adding that “this event is not unexpected, given the wide distribution of the primary mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti, and competent vector, Aedes albopictus, in Kerala and Maharashtra states.”

Image Credits: ECDC –, UNICEF.

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