In a swift response to contain the spread of the rare and lethal Nipah virus, which has claimed two lives, the state of Kerala in southern India took immediate measures on Wednesday. Several schools, offices, and public transport services were temporarily halted.
As of the latest update, two adults and a child remain hospitalized due to Nipah infection, with over 700 individuals currently undergoing testing for the virus. Health authorities in the state have emphasized that the Nipah virus can be transmitted through contact with the bodily fluids of infected bats, pigs, or humans.
On Wednesday evening, the state government revealed that 706 people, including 153 healthcare workers, were undergoing tests to assess the virus’s potential spread. The results of these tests were pending at the time.
Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, stated, “Additional testing may be necessary, and we will ensure proper isolation facilities are available.” He also urged the public to refrain from gatherings in the Kozhikode district for the next ten days.
This marks the fourth outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala since 2018, with two fatalities recorded since August 30. As a result, authorities have declared containment zones in at least eight villages in the Kozhikode region.
State Health Minister Veena George emphasized the importance of early contact tracing and isolation of individuals displaying symptoms. The strain of the Nipah virus detected in Kerala is the same as one previously identified in Bangladesh, which is known for its high mortality rate but has a history of being less contagious from human to human.
To combat the outbreak, public movement restrictions have been imposed in certain parts of the state, while antivirals and monoclonal antibodies are being employed to treat infected individuals, including a healthcare worker. Stringent isolation protocols have been put in place, with medical personnel required to quarantine after contact with infected patients.
The initial case involved a small-scale farmer in the Kozhikode village of Maruthonkara, who grew bananas and areca nuts. Authorities have diligently traced the individual’s movements, identifying potential contacts and locations visited prior to the onset of illness. The victim’s daughter and brother-in-law, both infected, are currently in isolation, while additional family members and neighbors are undergoing testing.
It was discovered that the second fatality had occurred after contact with the first victim in a hospital setting. However, the two individuals were not related, according to an anonymous government official who shared this information.
The Nipah virus was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers and individuals in close contact with the animals in Malaysia and Singapore. Subsequent infections in South Asia have been linked to the consumption of date-palm sap contaminated with bat excreta.
The native village of the initial victim, Maruthonkara, is located near a 300-acre forest inhabited by various bat species. During the 2018 Nipah outbreak, fruit bats from the same area tested positive for the virus. In the first Nipah outbreak in Kerala, 21 out of 23 infected individuals succumbed to the virus, while outbreaks in 2019 and 2021 claimed two lives each.
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Neighboring Tamil Nadu state announced measures to screen travelers arriving from Kerala for medical tests, with those displaying flu symptoms being isolated. Earlier, a Reuters investigation in May highlighted parts of Kerala as globally high-risk areas for outbreaks of bat-borne viruses, particularly due to extensive deforestation and urbanization, which have brought humans and wildlife into closer proximity.