India’s Kerala closes schools, banks in several villages after Nipah deaths

Containment zones have been declared in the southern state after it recorded two deaths from the rare and deadly brain-damaging virus.

India Nipah
Staff members install a sign reading 'Nipah isolation ward, entry strictly prohibited' at a hospital in Kozhikode district, Kerala [Reuters]

Authorities have closed down some schools and offices and declared more than seven villages as containment zones in the southern state of Kerala after it recorded two deaths from the rare and deadly brain-damaging Nipah virus.

An adult and a child are still infected and in hospital, and more than 130 people have so far been tested for the virus, which is transmitted to humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected bats, pigs or other people, an official from Kerala’s health ministry said on Wednesday.

“We are focusing on tracing contacts of infected persons early and isolating anyone with symptoms,” said the state’s Health Minister Veena George, who told reporters the strain of the virus was being examined.

“Public movement has been restricted in parts of the state to contain the medical crisis.”

Two infected people have died since August 30 in the state’s fourth outbreak of the virus since 2018, forcing authorities to declare containment zones in at least seven villages in the district of Kozhikode.

Strict isolation rules were adopted, with medical staff being quarantined after direct contact with the infected.

The first victim was a small landholder in the district’s village of Marutonkara, a government official said. The victim’s daughter and brother-in-law, both infected, are in an isolation ward, with other family members and neighbours being tested.

The second death followed contact in hospital with the first victim, doctors’ initial investigation has shown, but the two were not related, added the official, who sought anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media.

Three federal teams, including experts from the National Virology Institute, were set to arrive on Wednesday for more tests, the official said.

The deadly Nipah virus was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak of illness affecting pig farmers and others in close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore.

This is the fourth Nipah outbreak in Kerala since 2018.

The first and worst outbreak began with a 26-year-old man who went to hospital with a fever and cough that spread to family members and other patients before it was diagnosed as Nipah. Twenty-one of the 23 infected people died then.

In 2019 and 2021, Nipah killed two more people.

A Reuters news agency investigation published in May identified parts of Kerala as among the places most at risk globally for outbreaks of bat viruses.

Extensive deforestation and urbanisation have brought people and wildlife into close contact.

Source: News Agencies