Urban Planning Vector borne diseases

Zika riding our VRTS

I am not very sure about the success of BRTS in our hot city; but I am getting increasingly sure that the same climate-agnostic urban planning is quickly establishing a highly efficient VRTS: virus rapid transport system that our administration is failing to notice.

Today, my involuntary swatting under the desk has brought froth mangled remains of a creature. As I look closely at the mottled mess, I am in no doubt that it is aedes aegypti, the dengue mosquito, that is getting ready for it next innings. Once the debilitating cold recedes, it will be back in full force.

Year after year we see viral infections come and go, so we have almost become numb to the issue and appear to have taken it as a static problem that we can live with. Unfortunately, nature is never static and once its wheels get moving they move big and hard. The mosquito problem that we are getting apathetic to is, possibly, the most dynamic and fast growing problem, especially when our planet seems to be getting hotter by the year.

With mosquito-favoring climate coinciding with mosquito-favoring urban development, we have created a VRTS that is available for any virus that manages to harness this vector; and, unfortunately for us, across the globe, more and more virus are jumping across species and getting ready to exploit the opportunity we are offering.

The latest in this list that should be sending shivers down our collective spine is zika virus. First identified in Uganda, zika is a milder cousin of dengue. Though its presence was observed in India, without aedes aegypti support, it had remained contained. As a disease it was never considered a great threat, as it just causes mild fever and rashes for couple of day in most cases. But, after a recent wave of zika in Brazil, a 5 fold increase in infant microcephaly (smaller-than-normal heads) was recorded, potentially indicating that this harmless looking viral fever is a devil in disguise, as children born to mothers infected by it during pregnancy may have to live with an incurable congenital deficit.

What makes zika issue more complicated is its almost sub-clinical expression. A person infected by the virus may not even realize about its presence. And even when it is expressed, its symptoms are so similar to dengue that it is difficult to identify zika infection. So, if the link with microcephaly is proven, people living in zika’s geographical range will have a difficult problem at hand.

Rubella or German measles virus had posed similar predicament to humanity (as its infection during pregnancy also causes serious congenital defects), but thankfully we have a vaccine for rubella, and because it is not traveling through a vector, its spread is limited.

Zika, having partnered aedes aegypti is a threat of unprecedented order. In last decade, it has spread rapidly across South America and is now emerging as the next big challenge. In India, with aedes aegypti population increasing rapidly, zika is bound to start taking rounds sooner than later. And, if that happens we can be heading for a disaster.

Unfortunately, zika is not the only virus on the move. Insects are the biggest beneficiaries of global warming, and their proliferation is opening up the world for various pathogens. For those living in the tropics, the need of taking vector mitigation seriously is paramount.

I sincerely request our administration to wake up and act after understanding insect and virus ecology scientifically. This repeat wave of cold weather could turn into a boon if AMC focuses on mosquito destruction now, as it will reduce the seed population, and in turn, spread of the vector-borne diseases during peak season.

DNA: 24/1/16

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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