Animal Husbandry department and forest officials collect bats from a well of a house after the outbreak of 'Nipah' virus, near Perambra in Kozhikode on Monday. Image Credit: PTI

The south Indian state of Kerala is in a state of panic after many cases of the killer Nipah virus were detected last week.

The state and the central governments have taken comprehensive measures to contain the outbreak of the rare virus. Doctors say it is just another viral infection and there is nothing to panic, but from reactions on social media, people are in a state of heightened alert.

Also read: ‘Nipah nurse’ leaves touching dying note'

The deadly virus carried mainly by fruit bats has killed at least 11 people in Kerala, sparking a statewide health alert.

Initial reports state three people had died from the deadly virus, but this was later revised to six, then to 11, according to the Indian Express.

At least five other deaths in the state of Kerala are being investigated for possible links to the Nipah virus, which has a 70 per cent mortality rate. There are no vaccines for the disease yet, and according to the WHO, the only treatment that could possibly help is intensive supportive care. 

Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has urged citizens to stay vigilant and follow instructions from the health department.

"All the periphery hospitals of the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital are fully equipped to tackle the fever. All those who have fever need not rush to the medical college. At the moment, eight patients are undergoing treatment. Their samples have been sent to Pune and results are awaited," said Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja.

Medical personnel wearing protective suits check patients at the Medical College hospital in Kozhikode on May 21, 2018

Shailaja said all arrangements are in place, things are under control and there is no need to panic. The state government has sanctioned an emergency fund of Rs 20 lakh to the Kozhikode Medical College to tackle the present fever outbreak.

Nipah virus, spread by fruit bats that infects both animals and humans, has claimed the lives of two brothers and their aunt in Perambara of Kozhikode district within a few weeks.

State health officials visited the victims' house and sealed the unused well that had lots of bats, said Shailaja and added that people are being educated to ensure that they do not eat any fruits that fall down from trees.

To strengthen Kerala government's fight against the virus, the Central government on Monday assured the state of all support and sent a multi-disciplinary Central team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to the district.

"We are closely monitoring the situation. I have also dispatched a Central team to assist the state government and initiate required steps," Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare J.P. Nadda said in a statement from Geneva.

Nadda said he had a talk with Union Minister of State for Tourism Alphons Kannathanam and Kerala Health Minister Shailaja. Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan also spoke to the Kerala Principal Health Secretary and reviewed the situation.

In a tweet late on Sunday, Nadda said: "Reviewed the situation of deaths related to Nipah virus in Kerala with Secretary Health. I have directed Director NCDC to visit the district and initiate required steps as warranted by the protocol for the disease in consultation with state government."

Atul Gogia, Senior Consultant, Department of Medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said: "Nipah virus is just another viral infection which affects the respiratory and central nervous systems with symptoms like drowsiness. Like most other viral infections, Nipah, too, has no treatment and can only be managed through intensive supportive care."

Doctors wear safety masks as a precaution after the outbreak of 'Nipah' virus, at a hospital in Kozhikode, on Monday.

Gogia said the virus is spread by fruit bats, which are usually found in forests, but due to urbanisation, sometimes it is found even in cities.

While he did not rule out the possibility of an infected person travelling to other parts of the country and spreading the disease, he said there is no threat to other parts of the country including north India and Delhi and there is no need to panic.

The senior doctor, however, said people living in areas inhabited by bats or wildlife animals should be alert as there can be other infections that can afflict them.

Transmission of NiV takes place through direct contact with infected bats, pigs or from other NiV-infected persons.

The nurse who died while tending to Nipah-virus hit patients

A nurse, who possible got infected while tending to people infected with Nipah virus at a state-run hospital in the south Indian state of Kerala, died without seeing her loved once. To avoid the spread of the virus, the health department cremated her body at an electric crematorium.

Lini Puthussery, 31, was running a slight fever when she was called in for work due to staff shortage at the hospital. She happily volunteered, unaware that she was stepping into the lap of death.

Her husband Sajeesh, who works as an accountant in Bahrain, had flown down to meet Lini on hearing that she was sick, but never got a chance to see her alive.

Unable to meet her husband, Lini wrote a letter to her husband from the intensive care unit of the hospital: “Sajeeshetta, am almost on the way. I don’t think I will be able to see you again. Sorry. Please take care of our children. Poor Kunju (term of endearment for their son), please take him to the Gulf with you. Don’t leave them and go like (my) father did. Please. With lots of love… Kisses (sic),” it reads.

Their children, Sidharth (5) and Rithul (2), are still unaware that their mother has died.

What is Nipah virus?

  1. Nipah virus (NiV) infection is a newly emerging disease which can be transmitted to humans from animals. The natural host of the virus are fruit bats
  2. The infection was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness among pig farmers and people with close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore
  3. In India the disease was first reported in 2001 and again six years later, with the two outbreaks claiming 50 lives. Both times the disease was reported in areas of the eastern state of West Bengal bordering Bangladesh.
  4. Bangladesh has borne the brunt of the disease in recent years, with more than 100 people dying of Nipah since the first outbreak was reported there in 2001.
  5. In Bangladesh in 2004, humans became infected with Nipah after eating date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats.
  6. Nipah virus infection can be prevented by avoiding exposure to sick pigs and bats in endemic areas and not drinking raw date palm sap
  7. Symptom of the infection include fever, headache, drowsiness, respiratory illness, disorientation and mental confusion. These signs and symptoms can progress to coma within 24-48 hours
  8. There is no vaccine for either humans or animals

- With input from agencies