At least ten people have died in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts of North Kerala from the Nipah Virus, an infection that spreads through bats, pigs and other animals. The virus is notorious for its high fatality rate and lack of cure. Kerala Health Minister, K K Shailaja told the Hindustan Times that the situation is ‘well under control.’ This is the first time that Nipah Virus (NiV) has been found in Kerala.
The last four deaths reported were from Kozhikode Medical College and the taluk hospital. The Union Health Ministry’s team of experts is in the state to analyse the situation and help Kerala cope. It was on Sunday (May 20, 2018) that Keralaâ€™s Health Director RL Saritha announced that the first eight deaths were caused by Nipah virus. She said that the National Virology Institute in Pune had confirmed it. The fact that there is no vaccine or cure for the disease has caused panic among Malayalees.
At least twenty people are currently under observation. The ten reported deaths are from the 12 cases that have been confirmed to be NiV infections. People are being evacuated from areas the affected people belonged to. Domestic animals are also under observation, the report said. Steps are being taken to contain the virus by setting up isolation wards in government and private hospitals.
Tamil Nadu is now screening people travelling from Kerala for symptoms of fever and contact history. Goa has issued a warning and tourism industry in Kerala is reporting mass cancellations.
During the period of detection and treatment, Lini, a nurse who had attended two of the infected people also contracted infection and died later. The bodies of the people dying from the virus are being cremated to prevent the virus from spreading. Lini’s cremation was opposed by her relatives. The nurse’s death also caused public outrage regarding the lack of safety measures provided for staff who treat the patients.
It has also been reported that the crematoriums are refusing to cremate bodies fearing infection. Ambulance drivers are also refusing to carry bodies. In the absence of effective safety measures for those handling NiV cases, these incidents are increasing in frequency. Including Lini, three people who died caught the infection due to direct contact with other infected persons.
People say that the first reports of the death of some domesticated animals were ignored by authorities.
Nipah virus (NiV) infection is a disease which can be transmitted to humans from animals (zoonosis). The natural host of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus. The affected persons show a range of symptoms from acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
The WHO (World Health Organization) says that the Nipah virus (NiV) encephalitis is an emerging infectious disease of public health importance in the South-East Asia Region. It was first identified in India in an outbreak of encephalitis in 2001 in Meherpur district of Bangladesh. There was another outbreak in West Bengal in 2007. Combining both the outbreaks there was a 70% death rate with 50 deaths out of 71 infected people.
The virus itself was first identified in Malaysia in 1998 where the disease spread in Kampung Sungai Nipah. During the time, the intermediate hosts were pigs. There were no intermediate hosts in outbreaks that happened after that. In Bangladesh the NiV ifection was caused by date palm sap that had been infected by fruit bats.
WHO says that NiV infection can be prevented by avoiding exposure to sick pigs and bats in endemic areas and not drinking raw date palm sap and not consuming fruits that have fallen from trees.