Nipah virus fear grips Kerala again as first case this year is confirmed in Kochi; disease had claimed 17 lives in 2018

The first case of Nipah virus (NiH) fever this year has been confirmed in Kerala as health minister KK Shailaja announced on Tuesday that a 23-year-old male patient in a hospital in Kochi has tested positive for the infection. However, the health minister said that all necessary precautions and remedial steps to curb the spread of the deadly disease are in place and the patient has been shifted to an isolation ward.

The patient, who is a resident of Kochi's Ernakulam, and was studying in Idukki, tested positive in results that came from the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, ANI reported. Earlier, two people were suspected to have similar symptoms. Currently, around 86 people whom the patient came in contact with are being observed and asked to take adequate precautionary measures, the health minister said. The patient had travelled with a group of 22 students from Idukki to a company in Thrissur for an internship programme, reports said.

Shailaja said that out of the 86 patients suspected, two were admitted, and two nurses who treated the patient initially have sore throat and fever. A sample of the second patient will also be sent to the NIV, Alappuzha, Manipal Laboratory and NIV Pune, she said.

 Nipah virus fear grips Kerala again as first case this year is confirmed in Kochi; disease had claimed 17 lives in 2018

Representational image. PTI

The health department held an emergency meeting in Kochi recently. The state also flew in experts who helped tackle the 2018 outbreak in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts, including the face of that mission — former principal health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan, Livemint reported.

The virus, which spreads from human to human, has a mortality rate of over 70 percent. It first appeared in the state in 2018, claiming the lives of 17 people. Among those who died due to it was 31-year-old nurse Lini Puthussery, who contracted the virus after treating a patient at the Perambra taluk hospital.

Following the outbreak, the first ever virology institute in Kerala was opened in Thonnakal, Thiruvananthapuram.

In 2018, Kerala saw widespread fear and panic due to the first reported outbreak of the deadly disease. People were advised to avoid public meetings, travel and unnecessary visits to the hospital. Schools and colleges were shut down in June 2018, and countries like UAE issued advisories to people travelling back to the state for an annual vacation to decide against their plans.

The Nipah outbreak from last year also caused massive losses for business outlets and the transport department too suffered severe losses as people limited their outdoor engagements and avoided travel.

The virus initially came to light after three members of a family from Panthirikkara Sooppikkada in Changaroth grama panchayat, Kozhikode district, died of viral encephalitis with myocarditis. While 26-year-old Mohammed Sadik and his brother 28-year-old Mohammed Salih died on 5 May, 2018 and 18 May, 2018 respectively, their aunt Mariyam passed away on 19 May 2018.

However, the mystery for the authorities remained as to how the virus entered the southern part of the country despite its presence first being reported in the northeastern parts of the country due to their proximity with Bangladesh — where a family of five died due to it in March.

Many suspected the virus to be emanating out of the wells in the infected area, as it was unlikely that infected bats migrated all the way to Kerala. Bats were the source of the virus in 2001, when the first outbreak of the disease was reported.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nipah is capable of infecting pigs and other domestic animals and there are no vaccines available for the disease. The primary treatment for infected humans is through intensive supportive care only.

The virus was first identified during an outbreak in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia in 1998, and is primarily carried by fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, though it can spread through other means, including human to human contact as well. In Malaysia, pigs were the intermediate hosts; however, in subsequent Nipah outbreaks, no intermediate hosts were identified.

Several people had reportedly lost their lives to Nipah in Bangladesh in 2004 after consuming date palm saps contaminated by fruit bats. In 2006, the virus had raised concerns in West Bengal's Siliguri, though the state had first detected a similar case as early as 2001. But most of these cases were said to have resulted from human to human contact. Thereafter, a second infection had reportedly emerged in Nadia district in 2007, close to the Bangladesh border.

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Updated Date: Jun 04, 2019 15:59:40 IST