The Indian state of Kerala is grappling with a fresh outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus, as authorities work relentlessly to contain its spread. The virus has claimed two lives and infected at least five individuals, according to government officials.
In response to the outbreak, schools in the affected Kozhikode district have been closed, several villages declared containment zones, and a total of 950 contacts have been identified, with 213 considered “high risk.” Health Minister Veena George confirmed the fifth case, a 24-year-old healthcare worker, while a 9-year-old infected with the virus remains on ventilation.
This outbreak marks the fifth occurrence of Nipah virus in Kerala since 2018, with the most recent one in 2021, when the state was already grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Nipah virus, known for its high fatality rate estimated to be between 40 and 75 percent by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been classified as a priority disease due to its epidemic potential. However, the strain identified in Kerala, known as the Bangladesh strain, has a high mortality rate but is less infectious, according to Indian media reports.
In a statement on social media, Kerala’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, urged residents not to panic and to cooperate fully with the imposed restrictions to combat the disease. Here’s what you need to know about the Nipah virus outbreak:
What is Nipah virus?
Nipah virus (NiV) was first discovered during a 1999 outbreWhat is Nipah virus and how does it spread?ak among pig farmers in Malaysia. The virus is believed to have been transmitted to humans from infected livestock and their secretions. Fruit bats, also known as “flying foxes,” are the natural host of the virus. The virus can be transmitted from animals to humans, primarily through bats or pigs, or through human-to-human contact. Domestic animals, including horses, cats, and dogs, can also contract and spread the infection, but it is highly contagious among pigs.
Symptoms of Nipah virus?
Symptoms of Nipah virus infection can range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include fever, headaches, vomiting, sore throat, and muscle aches. In severe cases, patients can experience acute infections such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and respiratory issues. Other reported effects include seizures, personality changes, or even a coma. Some infected individuals may remain asymptomatic.
What is the extent of the Nipah virus’s prevalence?
Nipah virus outbreaks have been recorded in various Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Bangladesh, and India. In some regions of Asia, new cases of Nipah virus have been reported almost annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Why is Kerala at a greater risk in this context?
Kerala, a tropical state with a population of 35 million on India’s southwest coast, has experienced deforestation and rapid urbanization, leading to increased contact between humans and animals, including bats that can carry the virus. An investigation by Reuters in May highlighted Kerala’s vulnerability to disease spillover from bats to humans, as it is home to over 40 bat species and “prime bat habitat” that has been progressively cleared for human development.
How is Nipah virus identified, and is there any means of addressing it medically?
Awareness of the Nipah virus remains low, making it challenging to prevent, treat, and diagnose. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests using bodily fluid samples are primarily used to confirm Nipah virus infections, along with antibody detection methods. There is no specific cure or vaccine for the virus, with treatment focusing on managing symptoms, rest, and hydration.
Preventative measures include avoiding foods contaminated by fruit bats, washing and peeling fruits that may be affected, and avoiding unprotected contact with infected bats or pigs. Regular handwashing and avoiding contact with bodily fluids or blood from infected individuals are also recommended, especially in areas where outbreaks have occurred.
The Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala remains a serious concern, and health authorities are working diligently to contain its spread and protect the public. Stay tuned for further updates on this developing situation.