Hyderabad: Indian scientists were aware of Zika virus way back in 1950s and had even stored a vial of the pathogen, which has now emerged as a global health threat, a senior government official said on Thursday.
"We have that report and in fact, they (Indian scientists) even saved a vial of that virus from that time. So, in our virology institute in Pune, except the virus was dead, couldn't be revived. This is the advantage of having a repository. (It) couldn't be revived. Because, in those days, we don't know how they stored it. The scientists, even in 1951 or 52 thought about storing a vial...," Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Director-General Soumya Swaminathan said.
She was replying to a query about Indian scientists being aware of the virus that first surfaced in 1940s in Africa.
To deal with Zika, Ms Swaminathan said, surveillance and testing of people is being done in the country at present, besides looking at the issue of developing a vaccine.
"India, at the moment, for Zika, what we are doing is surveillance. Making sure that we equip our labs to be able test for Zika. We want to find out if there is any Zika circulating. So, we are testing people who present with fever, just like a dengue but a dengue negative. We have not found any case so far, but we will continue this exercise," she said.
The ICMR hopes to get a live virus so that government labs can start working on it, Ms Swaminathan said. Zika disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes.
People with Zika virus usually have symptoms like mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days. There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available for the infection, whose latest large outbreak was reported from Brazil.
According to the World Health Organization, Zika was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys. It was subsequently identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
Early last month, the WHO declared Zika virus a public health emergency.