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2.6 billion people in Zika risk areas in Africa, Asia: Study

Another mystery is whether immunity to the African Zika strain would offer protection against the Asian strain  currently in circulation.

Published: 02nd September 2016 07:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd September 2016 10:51 AM   |  A+A-

Zika_AP

An Aedes aegypti mosquito is photographed through a microscope at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil. (File Photo | AP)

By PTI

PARIS: At least 2.6 billion people, over a  third of the global population, live in parts of Africa, Asia  and the Pacific where Zika could gain a new foothold,  researchers warned today, with 1.2 billion at risk in India  alone. 

These are people who reside in as-yet unaffected parts of  the world with the right climate and abundant mosquitoes for  the virus to settle, spread and propagate an epidemic like the  one besetting the Americas and Caribbean, they said. 

"According to our most conservative scenario, populations  living within the geographical range for Zika virus were  highest in India (1.2 billion people), China (242 million),  Indonesia (197 million) Nigeria (179 million), Pakistan (168  million), and Bangladesh (163 million)," said a study. 

This is a theoretical possibility, however. 

Whether or not the mosquito-borne virus would take off in  any of these countries would be determined largely by a  crucial unknown factor: Do the people there have immunity? 

Sporadic cases of Zika have previously been reported in  Africa and Asia, but nobody knows whether they were widespread  enough for populations to acquire resistance to the virus. 

Another mystery is whether immunity to the African Zika  strain would offer protection against the Asian strain  currently in circulation. 

"If Zika immunity is widespread, introduced Zika will  fizzle out fast," Derek Gatherer of Lancaster University said  in a comment on the study published in The Lancet Infectious  Diseases. 

"On the other hand, if it enters another unprotected  population, we may see a repeat of what we have already seen  in Brazil and other parts of Latin America." 

The research team used air travel data, maps of mosquito  spread and climate conditions, and information on population  density and health spending to draw up an epidemiological risk  model. 

Benign in most people, Zika has been linked to a form of  severe brain damage called microcephaly which causes newborns'  heads to be abnormally small, and to rare adult-onset  neurological problems such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS),  which can result in paralysis and death. 

In an outbreak that started mid-2015, more than 1.5  million people have been infected with Zika in Brazil, and  more than 1,600 babies born with abnormally small heads and  brains. Seventy countries and territories have reported local  mosquito-borne Zika transmission, with Brazil by far the  hardest hit. 

Seventeen countries have reported cases of microcephaly  or other central nervous system malformations in babies, and  eighteen signalled an increase in GBS, according to the World  Health Organization. 

There have also been rare cases of person-to-person  sexual transmission. 

"As the Zika virus epidemic in the Americas intensifies  and expands, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of infected  travellers are now transporting the virus to distant regions  of the world," the researchers wrot

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