“It’s too early to contemplate preventive measures but we are keeping an eye on the situation,” said director of health services Ajay Chakrabarty. Several Zika cases have been reported from Rajasthan as well. “Like dengue and chikungunya, Zika is an RNA virus that spreads easily but remains undetected. Its symptoms are headache, joint pain, vomiting and high fever. Zika is not life-threatening, unless it’s passed in to foetus from an infected mother. The unborn child could die or have congenital deformities,” said AMRI Hospital consultant Debashish Saha.
Two Zika outbreaks were reported in India last year. But Bengal has remained largely unaffected so far. In 2016, the state health department had conducted a survey of newborn children to find out if they had microcephaly — a condition that leads to abnormally small heads.
“Zika symptoms are difficult to distinguish from ordinary viral fever or dengue. But it’s rarely fatal. It’s very rare in our state but since it has happened in Bihar, we ought to be cautious. Since we already have hundreds of dengue patients, a Zika outbreak could complicate matters,” said Fortis Hospital internal medicine specialist Joydeep Ghosh.
Zika virus infections during pregnancy have been linked to miscarriage and birth defects, including microcephaly — a potentially fatal congenital brain condition. Zika virus may also lead to other neurological disorders like Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Treatment of Zika, like dengue, is symptomatic. “There is no drug specific to the virus. Patients need paracetamol to control fever and pain-killers. As in dengue, parameters like blood pressure, heart rate and functioning of the vital organs need to be monitored constantly. Especially in the case of pregnant women since the virus can be transmitted through the uterus to the foetus,” said Saha.
But experts said it could be risky travelling to areas where a Zika outbreak has happened. “It’s contagious like dengue but leads to neurological complications more than haematological ones. The symptoms could last between two to seven days. Often, the disease remains asymptomatic. Since Zika can be sexually transmitted, the spread happens faster,” said consultant Arindam Biswas.