By Prarthana Mitra
A soldier died in Kolkata of suspected Nipah virus on Monday. Three residents of Murshidabad were also admitted to the Beleghata ID Hospital in the eastern metropolitan due to the same.
The deadly virus has already claimed 13 lives in Kerala where it originated earlier this month, with sporadic cases in Karnataka and high alert in other southern states.
Soldier’s death in Kolkata hospital suspected to be Nipah-related
Ever since the Kozhikode reports broke, the entire country has been on high alert, especially West Bengal, having seen at least two episodes of Nipah virus attacks in the recent past. The last outbreak in 2003, resulted in several deaths in Siliguri in North Bengal. In fact, the Nipah virus is sometimes referred to as the Siliguri virus.
Director of Health Services Dr Ajay K Chakraborty has dismissed reports about suspected Nipah virus cases in the state. Speaking to NDTV on Tuesday, Chakraborty said, “There are no cases of suspected Nipah virus at the Beleghata Infectious Diseases Hospital.”
Yet, evidence suggests otherwise; two of the patients at the quarantined ward are construction labourers from Murshidabad who recently returned from Kerala after the completion of their job contract. The third patient was working in Bengaluru.
The deceased soldier, Seenu Prasad, hailed from Kerala and was posted at Fort William. He was admitted to hospital on May 20, seven days after returning from a month’s vacation in Kerala. His samples were sent to the National Institute of virology in Pune, the only agency in the country to confirm the strain as Nipah virus.
In Goa, a student from Kerala is currently under observation. In Tamil Nadu, state Health Minister C Vijaya Baskar has said the government has taken precautionary steps to prevent the appearance of the virus in the state.
All you need to know about Nipah virus to avoid it
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.
Symptoms of the infection include fever, headache, drowsiness, respiratory illness, disorientation and mental confusion, and patients progress into a coma within 24-48 hours. There is no vaccine for Nipah virus which has a mortality rate of 70%. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care till the symptoms subside.
State governments are taking standard precautions and advocating personal hygiene to prevent an outbreak or further infection. “Carry hand sanitiser with you wherever you go and whenever possible, wash your hands,” said Dr Fabith Moideen, president of the Society for Emergency Medicine in Kerala. “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.”
According to the WHO, Nipah virus is on “top of the list” of 10 potential diseases for the next major outbreak.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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