By Prarthana Mitra
Eleven people have died of severe viral infections that have been doing the rounds in some parts of Kerala over the past week. According to a public statement issued by the state health department on Monday, the infections have been attributed to an emergent Nipah virus.
A team of health inspectors visited the locality of Perambra in Kozhikode district on Sunday to collect samples from well water and domestic animals. After traces of the Nipah virus were confirmed, doctors warned against spreading panic. The state is, however, on high epidemic alert, especially in consideration of the rising death toll in the state.
Here’s what happened
Symptoms of high fever and cold quickly escalated to encephalitis in some cases over the past week, with three deaths reported at the Perambra Taluk Hospital in Kozhikode on Monday. A nurse who treated three of the deceased also succumbed the virus.
Two confirmed patients are undergoing treatment at private hospitals in Kozhikode. Sixteen more are under observation at the Government Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode, with 12 blood and body fluid samples out of 18 people turning positive on Tuesday. The deceased hailed from Malappuram, Koorachundu and Chekkiad districts.
As more people started to approach state hospitals with similar symptoms, hospitals and medical colleges around the state are preparing for quarantine and implementing measures to control the spread of the virus within their facilities.
Dr G. Arunkumar, director of the Manipal Centre for Virus Research, which first detected the virus, told Scroll, “Right now, the chances of transmission are higher within health facilities than in the community.”
Here’s what you can do to stay safe
Dr Fabith Moideen, president of the Society for Emergency Medicine, met with emergency physicians to devise a plan to contain the infection. According to Moideen, the virus is not airborne.
Standard precautions and personal hygiene have been advised for all residents. “Carry hand sanitiser with you wherever you go and whenever possible, wash your hands,” said Moideen. “Even doors and door handles might be infected. So people should wash their hands after going to any public place. During any infection, personal hygiene is very important so people must change and wash their clothes every day. It is important to cover your mouth with a towel or your sleeve while coughing or sneezing.”
The World Health Organisation recognises the Nipah virus infection as a rare but newly emerging zoonosis that causes encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) in both animals and humans, with its natural host being the fruit bat. Doctors have therefore also recommended people to avoid eating fallen fruit or fruits with any signs of bites. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care till the symptoms subside.
The virus was first identified during a 1999 outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness in Malaysia and Singapore. Symptoms of the infection include fever, headache, drowsiness, respiratory illness, disorientation and mental confusion, progressing to coma within 24-48 hours.
There is no vaccine for Nipah virus which has a mortality rate of 70%. According to the WHO, Nipah virus is also “top of the list” of 10 potential diseases for the next major outbreak.
Prarthana Mitra is a writer at Qrius.
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