Indian health authorities are taking additional precautions to prevent the spread of the highly lethal Nipah virus after a sixth person was confirmed to be infected with it in the State of Kerala, where on-site activity at all educational facilities has been banned.
Nipah is a rare virus transmitted from animals to humans that causes severe fever with a high mortality rate.
The state government also announced that the Beypore port will suspend operations until further notice, as the region falls within a designated containment zone.
The government is rigorously tracking the location of cell phone towers to trace the source and location of the infection. A man succumbed to the virus on Aug. 30 while his son and brother-in-law, along with two other people he was in contact with in the hospital, continue to receive treatment.
So far no new positive cases have been reported and 94 high-risk contacts tested negative, which is a relief, Kerala Health Minister Veena George was quoted as saying by ANI news agency.
The government is focusing on contact tracing for a sixth person confirmed to be infected with the Nipah virus. Kozhikode City Mayor Beena Philip has declared all areas through which the index case traveled as containment zones.
Meanwhile, Kozhikode district collector A Geetha has arranged for educational institutions to switch to online classes over the next week and has advised students not to indulge in holiday-related festivities.
According to George, of the 1,080 people on the contact list of infected persons, 327 are healthcare workers, including 29 people from other districts who have had contact with those infected.
The first Nipah epidemic was recorded in 1998 after the virus spread among pig farmers in Malaysia. The virus is named after the village in this Southeast Asian country where it was discovered.
Epidemics of this virus are rare, but Nipah was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with Ebola, Zika, and Covid-19 as one of the diseases to be investigated as a priority because of its potential to cause a pandemic.
It is usually transmitted to humans through contaminated animals or food, but can also be spread directly from human to human.
Fruit bats, natural carriers of the virus, have been identified as the most likely cause of the ensuing epidemics. Symptoms include high fever, vomiting, and respiratory infection, but severe cases may be characterized by seizures and brain swelling leading to coma.
This virus can cause a range of illnesses in humans, from asymptomatic infections to acute respiratory conditions and potentially lethal encephalitis. Symptoms can range from fever, headache, myalgia, vomiting, and sore throat in the early stages, followed by dizziness, drowsiness, and neurological signs indicating acute encephalitis. In severe cases, atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress and seizures, may occur.
There is no vaccine against Nipah. Patients suffer a mortality rate of between 40% and 75%, according to WHO. Medications so far could only alleviate the symptoms. In principle, patients should be isolated immediately and transferred to an intensive care unit where vital body functions can be maintained.
Zoonoses, diseases transmitted from animals to humans that appeared thousands of years ago, have multiplied in the last 20 to 30 years. The development of international travel has allowed a more rapid spread. By occupying larger and larger areas of the planet, humans disrupt ecosystems and increase the likelihood of random viral mutations transmissible to humans, experts say. Industrial livestock farming increases the risk of spreading pathogens among animals, and deforestation increases contact between wildlife, domestic animals, and humans, which will favor the emergence of new diseases transmissible to humans. Infections in South Asia have been observed to be linked to the consumption of date palm sap contaminated with bat droppings.
Minister George announced Monday that no new cases of the Nipah virus have been reported in the state after 61 samples from high-risk contacts came back negative. The strain of Nipah virus found in Kerala has been identified as the Indian Genotype, or Genotype I, which makes it similar to the strain found in Bangladesh, George also explained, as four people, including a nine-year-old boy, are responding positively to medical treatment.
Both the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted studies that concluded that Kerala and eight other states in India have a probability of occurrence of Nipah virus, George also explained.
Further, after the 2018 outbreak, we conducted a thorough surveillance and found that the source of Nipah infection is bats. The virus found in Kerala has been identified as Indian Genotype or Genotype I, which makes it similar to the strain found in Bangladesh. In short, we have two strains of Nipah virus, one from Malaysia and the other from Bangladesh, George also pointed out during a press conference.
She also said the police have been urged to report any unusual deaths in the district to ensure a rapid response to possible cases of the virus.
The condition of the patients who are receiving medical care is satisfactory in general. In addition, the health of the nine-year-old boy on assisted ventilation is improving, George announced.
Currently, the situation is under control. We have identified 352 people on the high-risk contact list, and health workers have intensified prevention activities in areas where the Nipah virus has been confirmed, she added.
The first outbreak of Nipah in Kerala resulted in the death of 21 of the 23 people infected. Subsequent outbreaks in 2019 and 2021 claimed two additional lives.