The southern Indian state of Kerala has issued an alert following the confirmation of two deaths attributed to the rare Nipah virus. One fatality occurred earlier this month, while the other occurred on August 30th, both in Kerala’s Kozhikode district, as reported by officials.
Furthermore, two relatives of one of the victims have also tested positive for the virus and are currently receiving treatment in a hospital. This marks the fourth Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala since 2018.
The Nipah virus infection is classified as a “zoonotic illness” transmitted from animals, such as pigs and fruit bats, to humans, according to the World Health Organization. It can also be transmitted through contaminated food and direct contact with an infected person. While some individuals may exhibit no noticeable symptoms upon contracting the virus, others may experience acute respiratory problems. In severe cases, a Nipah infection can lead to foetal encephalitis, a serious condition affecting the brain. Unfortunately, the virus has a high mortality rate, as there is currently no medicine or vaccine available for treatment. Medical professionals can only manage the infection by controlling symptoms and providing supportive care.
Team of experts to Kerala
India’s Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, has announced that the federal government has dispatched a team of experts to Kerala to assess the situation and assist the state government in managing the outbreak. Kerala’s Health Minister, Veena George, disclosed that tests have indicated that the virus strain responsible for the current outbreak is the same as the one found in Bangladesh previously. She also mentioned that teams from the National Institute of Virology in Pune would establish a mobile lab at Kozhikode Medical College for virus testing and bat surveys.
Ms. George reported that 168 contacts of the deceased individuals have been identified and are undergoing testing for the virus. The state government in Kozhikode has set up a control room to monitor the situation, and they have instructed health workers to follow infection control protocols. In response to the outbreak, authorities have designated seven villages in Kozhikode as containment zones, and they have temporarily closed some schools and offices in the district.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed grave concern over the deaths, urging people to exercise caution by wearing face masks and visiting hospitals only in emergencies. However, he reassured the public that there is no reason for panic, as individuals who came into contact with those affected by the virus are receiving treatment.
Notably, Kozhikode witnessed its first, and most severe, Nipah outbreak in 2018, resulting in 17 out of 18 confirmed cases ending in death. Subsequent years saw isolated cases in the state, with one recovery in 2019 and a fatal case in 2021.
A Reuters investigation in May highlighted how Kerala’s rapid urbanization and deforestation created ideal conditions for the emergence of viruses like Nipah. Experts attribute the increased risk to habitat loss, bringing animals into closer proximity to humans, facilitating the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.