On May 31, a 25-year-old man died due to the deadly Nipah virus, taking the death toll of the people to have succumbed to the deadly virus in Kerala to 17. All the deaths have taken place in the past month or so. The deadliness of the virus can be gauged from the fact that out of the 20 people infected by the virus and having been admitted for treatment, 17 have died.
Even though many deaths have occurred over the past two weeks, the immediate cause of concern is the recent casualties which have resulted in the deaths of three people in a period of just two days in the last week. It prompted the state health minister KK Shailaja to state, “We had indicated at the very outset that there could be a possible second outbreak, and those who came into contact with the infected would be particularly vulnerable. All such people have to be closely watched.”
According to the minister, 1,950 people have come in contact with confirmed NiV cases. In Kozhikode district, from where a maximum number of casualties have been reported in the state, all educational institutions will remain closed until June 12.
The World Health Organization describes the Nipah virus infection as ‘a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans. The natural host of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus’.
The infections have proven to be fatal in many instances and currently, there exists no vaccination for this. The only way one can somehow survive the infection is by intensive supportive care.
The virus can either spread if a human comes in contact with a bat’s infected saliva or excreta. through a pig who may have been infected, contaminated food or from another human. According to the World Health Organization, “From 2001 to 2008, around half of reported cases in Bangladesh were due to human-to-human transmission through providing care to infected patients.”
The average incubation period of the infection is estimated to be anywhere between 4-14 days. However, there have been instances where the incubation period has been reported to be much longer.
It has the potential to cause many respiratory problems. There is a possibility of such strong seizures taking place that the individual goes into a coma in the next 24-48 hours.
Other symptoms include a sore throat, headache, vomiting, etc.
Some of the ones who are able to survive acute encephalitis also end up having long-term neurological conditions.
The fatality rate of the virus is dependent upon various factors such as the local environment and facilities available. For example, the fatality rate in Malaysia was a little less than 40%, but in India, it has been so far over 70%. In Kerala alone, it is 85%.
An outbreak of a disease took place in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia in 1998. The virus got its name from there too. In Kampung Sungai Nipah, the virus was being spread from bats to pigs and then to humans. It is estimated that out of the 265 cases, 105 turned out to be fatal in Malaysia. The infection had also spread to Singapore. The Nipah virus was finally controlled after slaughtering over a million pigs in Malaysia.
The bats in the region are migratory and have spread the infection to countries like Bangladesh and India.
The next destination of the virus was Bangladesh. The first outbreak of the infection took place in the country in 2001. Since then, reports of outbreaks have been almost a yearly affair in particular districts of Bangladesh. According to the World Health Organization, 161 people have died from 2001 until March 31, 2012, out of the 209 human cases of infections in Bangladesh.
The virus managed to cross the border and resulted in fatalities in neighbouring West Bengal as well. Two outbreaks took place. One in Siliguri in 2001 and the other in Nadia in 2007. Overall, 50 deaths took place in the two outbreaks. Seventy-one people were infected in West Bengal.
How it spread to Kerala is currently not known. Fruit bats have tested negative for the virus. However, it may be possible that the infected bats were not tested. The rabbits tested were also found to be negative for the virus.
Despite the high fatality rate, according to news, reports the Kerala government responded to the emergency in a very impressive manner. Almost 1,500 people who are believed to have come in contact with the confirmed cases are carefully being monitored. Not just that, by May 20, anti-infection measures were ready.