Nipah virus outbreak confirmed in Kerala; death toll rises to 9, 20 others under observation


Thiruvananthapuram, May 21: At least nine people have died in Kerala’s Kozhikode district due to Nipah virus, an infection which has high fatality rate and spreads mainly through bats, pigs and other animals, state health officials said.
More deaths have been reported from the area but the cause of these deaths is not known yet.
“We have confirmed nine deaths. Out of these only three are Nipah positive. We have sent samples of other deceased to the National Virology Institute in Pune. We can ascertain the exact cause of death only after obtaining results,” said State Health Secretary Rajeev Sadananndan.
Two of the deaths on Monday took place in the Kozhikode Medical College and two others died at the taluk hospital.
The Union Health Ministry has rushed a team of experts to assist the state which is struggling to cope with the outbreak.
“A team from the Indian Council of Medical Research is arriving in Kozhikode on Monday. We are trying our best to contain the spread of virus and we sought help from all,” Sadanandan said.
On Sunday night, the fears of the Nipah virus came true with Kerala’s Health Director RL Saritha announcing it after eight people had died.
“The National Virology Institute in Pune has confirmed that the dead were infected with Nipah virus,” Saritha said Sunday night. She did not mention how many of the dead had tested positive.
There is no vaccine or medicine for the disease and only form of treatment is supportive medicines and palliative care.
At least 12 people are admitted in various hospitals and 20 others are under observation. Many families who were staying closer to the affected dwellings have been evacuated to safer places and domestic animals are also under observation, a senior health official said.
The state health department has decided to set up isolation wards in government and private hospitals to contain the deadly virus. Lini, a nurse who attended to the two men who died, was herself hospitalised for a week before she died Monday morning. Her body was cremated at the electric crematorium immediately triggering strong protests from her relatives because it was not handed over to them.
The body of another person who died, Velauthan (64), was also cremated in the electric crematorium to prevent the disease from spreading.
Agitated heath workers complained that they have not been given enough precautionary gadgets to contain the infection.
The outbreak started with the death of three members of a family in Perambra in a span of two weeks. At least four others of the family are admitted in the hospital with same symptoms. Local people said they had informed the authorities after the death of some domesticated animals but their complaints were ignored.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) India reported two outbreaks of Nipah virus encephalitis in West Bengal, bordering Bangladesh, in 2001 and 2007. Seventy one cases with 50 deaths (70% of the cases) were reported in two outbreaks.
The first identification of Nipah virus as a cause of an outbreak of encephalitis was reported in 2001 in Meherpur district of Bangladesh. The WHO says Nipah virus (NiV) encephalitis is an emerging infectious disease of public health importance in the South-East Asia Region. (Agencies)