Indian authorities swiftly responds to the Nipah virus outbreak in Keralaby implementing containment measures after the occurrence of two fatalities caused by the rare and often fatal virus. Schools have been temporarily closed, and extensive testing is underway to curb the potential spread of the virus.
The Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, announced that the Nipah virus has been identified in the Kozhikode district within the state. He urged residents to be vigilant and adhere to the safety guidelines provided by the health department.
In a statement on Wednesday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan revealed that two individuals have succumbed to the virus. This marks the fourth outbreak of the disease in the state since 2018. Vijayan also took to social media to encourage the public not to succumb to fear but to confront the situation with prudence.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies Nipah as a zoonotic virus, capable of jumping from animals to humans. Nevertheless, it can also spread through contaminated food or direct human-to-human transmission.
Infection with the Nipah virus can result in a spectrum of illnesses, as outlined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Initially, symptoms may manifest as a headache and drowsiness. However, within a short span, these symptoms can progress rapidly, leading to a coma within days, according to the CDC.
Furthermore, Nipah has the potential to trigger acute respiratory syndrome, a condition where the lungs struggle to provide sufficient oxygen to the body. Additionally, it can cause fatal encephalitis, characterized by inflammation of the brain.
There is currently no vaccine available for the Nipah virus, and treatment options are limited to providing supportive care.
In Kerala, more than 700 individuals have been identified as close contacts and are undergoing testing for the virus, as reported by the state's health minister, Veena George, during a press briefing on Wednesday.
Among these contacts, 77 individuals are categorized as "high risk." They have been advised to remain at home and closely monitor their health.
In response to the outbreak, authorities in Kozhikode have taken measures such as the temporary closure of some schools within the district. Also, seven villages have been designated as "containment zones."
A medical team from Kozhikode Medical College walk together as they carry out areca nut and guava fruit samples to conduct tests for Nipah virus
In 2018, Kerala faced a severe outbreak of the Nipah virus, which resulted in the tragic loss of 17 lives and instilled widespread fear in the state. During that period, authorities conducted an extensive contact-tracing operation, testing over 230 individuals to limit the virus's transmission. One of the victims was a nurse who had been caring for patients at a hospital in Kozhikode.
The subsequent year, Kerala placed over 300 individuals under surveillance after a man was diagnosed with the Nipah virus. In 2021, the state experienced yet another outbreak, claiming the life of a 12-year-old boy.
The Nipah virus was initially identified during an outbreak in Malaysia from 1998 to 1999, where it infected nearly 300 people, resulting in over 100 fatalities, as reported by the CDC. To contain its spread, more than a million pigs were euthanized. The virus earned its name from the village of Kampung Sungai Nipah in Malaysia, where it was first contracted by pig farmers.
During that particular outbreak, the majority of human infections were a result of direct contact with ailing pigs or their contaminated tissues, as indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Subsequent outbreaks have occurred in India and Bangladesh, with a total of more than 600 documented human cases between 1998 and 2015.
Additionally, the Nipah virus has been known to transmit from one human to another. According to the WHO, between 2001 and 2008, approximately half of the reported cases in Bangladesh were attributed to human-to-human transmission, typically occurring when individuals provided care to infected patients.
Recognizing the potential danger it poses, the Nipah virus has earned a spot on the WHO's list of epidemic threats requiring immediate research and development attention.