Why has Nipah Virus resurfaced in Kerala?

The Nipah strain this time around is the Bangladesh variant which spreads wly, but, however, has a high mortality rate

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 15 September 2023

Nipah virus resurfaced in Kerala, when two deaths were reported in Kozhikode district on September 12, 2023. Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya has confirmed these unnatural deaths and contact-tracing of the deceased is underway to prevent an outbreak through high-risk contacts.

So far, five suspected samples have been sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune to confirm the presence of the virus. They belong to the 49-year-old deceased man’s four relatives, all of whom have been hospitalised.

The state government set up a control room in Kozhikode on September 12 to control the emergency, after a district-wide health alert was issued on September 11.

The Nipah strain this time around is the Bangladesh variant which spreads wly, but, however, has a high mortality rate. Around 700 people came into contact with the patients and 76 of them are high risk.

The high-risk Nipah patients have been asked to not leave their homes. The routes of the two deceased Nipah patients have been published for people to avoid them. In Kozhikode, restrictions have been imposed banning the gathering of a large number of people at festivals, and functions.

In the containment zone, essential services have been stopped, besides entry and exit into these 58 wards. Shops selling essential goods will be allowed to function from 7 am to 5 pm. No curfew bar has been given to pharmacies and health centers.

Dakshina Kannada, and other districts in Karnataka bordering Kerala have issued surveillance alerts. On September 12, Kerala health minister Veena George chaired a high-level meeting to take stock of the situation.

She said 16 committees have been formed and health workers have been asked to follow protocol to prevent the infection from spreading such as the wearing of PPE kits. Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus that can also be transmitted through contaminated food or directly from person to person, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

No drug or vaccine is available to treat the disease. “Human infections range from asymptomatic infection, acute respiratory infection (mild or severe) and fatal encephalitis,” the WHO says.

The virus was first detected after an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia in 1999. It was also found in Bangladesh in 2001, and annual outbreaks are often reported in the country.

India has reported four outbreaks of Nipah Virus. The first was reported in Siliguri in West Bengal, where 75 per cent of cases occurred among hospital staff or visitors in a healthcare setting.

Incidentally, Kozhikode is also where the first Nipah Virus outbreak was reported in South India. Deaths due to Nipah infection were reported in Kozhikode district in 2018 and 2021. No deaths occurred during the 2019 outbreak in Kerala.

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