India’s Kerala state on alert amid Nipah virus outbreak

The southern Indian state put on ‘all-time alert’ after at least 17 die of Nipah virus infection.

People wear masks as they wait outside a casualty ward at a hospital in Kozhikode
People wear masks as they wait outside a casualty ward at a hospital in Kozhikode in the southern state of Kerala [REUTERS/Stringer]

The southern Indian state of Kerala has been put on “all-time alert” after at least 17 of the people infected with Nipah virus died in the past weeks.

Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja told Al Jazeera on Monday that the state is on an “all-time alert” to prevent the infectious disease – which causes acute respiratory problems or fatal brain swelling among humans – from spreading further.

“All efforts are being made by authorities to confirm that more lives are not lost due to Nipah,” she said.

The viral outbreak has resulted in the quarantine of 2,379 people in their homes in the southern state, health and government officials have said.

More than 2,000 people are under medical observation in Kerala’s Malabar region, uncertain whether they have been infected with the disease.

Individuals who had any contact with infected persons have been included in the list.

The state’s director of health services, RL Saritha, said on Monday that there had been no new cases reported since June 1.

“The preventive measures have been implemented with greater efficiency. There is no need to panic,” Saritha told Al Jazeera.

The Nipah virus is believed to be transmitted from animals to humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), fruit bats are the natural hosts of the disease.

India’s National Centre for Disease Control and experts from the National Institute of Virology said they are also monitoring the situation.

Raised alarms

The outbreak of the disease and risk of its spread have raised alarms among the people in four most-affected districts of Malabar region of the state.

Dr Ajaz Ali, a surgeon at Koyilandy Taluk hospital in Kozhikode district, said that since the news of the disease broke out, many patients have refrained from coming to the hospital.

“There were more than 1,200 people coming here every day, and now it has reduced to below 200. All are afraid of crowds due to the Nipah risk.

Isolation wards for patients infected with Nipah have been set up at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital.

The disease has also forced state authorities to close schools and colleges and postpone exams in Malabar.

District authorities have also asked people to keep away from crowded areas as a precautionary measure. District courts in some areas have also temporarily suspended operations.

Businesses affected

The disease outbreak has affected the livelihood of people as businesses have shut down. Sales in restaurants and shops selling produce, meat and fish have fallen in the past few weeks.

“Bus stands are empty. People are avoiding travel. They are remaining at home and using protective masks while travelling,” said Rajeev, a bus conductor from Kozhikode district.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have banned imports of fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits from Kerala. The ban will continue until the outbreak is controlled.

Bahrain and Qatar have also urged their nationals and residents to avoid travelling to Kerala until the epidemic is under control.

An estimated 1.6 million migrants from Kerala form the majority of the Indian community in the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain.

Tracing the source

Health authorities in India said they have no evidence to suggest that the Nipah virus in Kerala was transmitted by fruit bats as suspected initially.

Samples collected from the droppings, serum and blood of bats tested negative for the Nipah virus, officials the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases said.

The last Nipah outbreaks – reported in 2001 and 2007 in India’s West Bengal – claimed 70 lives. Nipah has killed more than 260 people in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and India and Singapore since 1998.

The deadly virus got its name from the Kampung Sungai Nipah village in Malaysia where it was first reported.

Despite the absence of a vaccine to prevent Nipah from spreading, an antiviral drug used against hepatitis C infection seems to contain shivering and vomiting in patients, the WHO said.

The two confirmed cases in Kerala, who have been under treatment now, have also been responding well to the anti-hepatitis drug, said the director of health services.

Meanwhile, India’s national disease control agency said no similar cases of Nipah had been detected in other parts of the country.

Source: Al Jazeera