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Kerala's Triple Whammy: Lessons From Covid, Zika Outbreak to Shape State's Nipah Plan

Alerts are in place in several Kerala districts. (Reuters)

Alerts are in place in several Kerala districts. (Reuters)

The Kerala health department has been on a high alert since a 12-year-old boy from Kozhikode succumbed to Nipah virus infection on Sunday.

Covid-battered Kerala is in the midst of a critical health crisis. Barely a month after the state, whihc was at the forefront of the coronavirus-induced pandemic during the first wave, reported the country’s first Zika virus infection, another virus has once agan reared it’s ugly head. The Kerala health department has been on a high alert since a 12-year-old boy from Kozhikode succumbed to Nipah virus infection on Sunday. The area within a three-kilometre radius from the house of the deceased child has been declared a containment zone. This includes wards from five panchayats.

The health departments in four districts — Kozhikode, neighbouring Kannur, Malappuram and Wayanad — have been put on high alert.

As of August 2, Kerala had reported 65 Zika virus cases with the state capital Thiruvananthapuram reporting 61 of these, Ernakulam two, and Kottayam and Kollam one each.

ALSO READ | Zika Virus Spreads Wings in Kerala, Maharashtra: Link to Coronavirus, Symptoms Explained as Cases Rise

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Nipah 2.0

The first Nipah virus disease outbreak in South India was reported from Kozhikode district in Kerala on May 19, 2018. There have been 17 deaths and 18 confirmed cases as of June 1, 2018. The outbreak was contained and declared over by June 10, 2018.Thereafter, in June 2019, a new case of Nipah was reported from Kochi and the sole patient was a 23-year old student, who later recovered.

With this year’s reporting of a case, it is the fifth time the virus has been detected in India and the third in Kerala.

Nipah is a zoonotic virus which spreads from animals to humans and also transmitted directly between people. It can cause acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis besides fever, headache, cough and throat pain, the DC said and asked the people to inform the health department immediately if any person is found experiencing the symptoms.

Present status

The state heaved a sigh of relief on Tuesday as the test results of those who came in close contact with the 12-year-old child who succumbed to Nipah virus infection returned negative. said the test results of the samples taken from the child’s eight close contacts are negative.

“The samples of parents and healthcare workers, who were symptomatic, have been tested negative. It’s a moment of relief that the results of those who were in close contact with the child came out negative," State Health Minister Veena George said. George said there are currently 48 people in the high risk category who are at a medical college isolation ward and their health condition is “stable".

Five more samples are being tested in the facility arranged at the medical college by Pune NIV, the minister said. Out of the 48, 31 people are from Kozhikode, four from Wayanad, eight from Malappuram, three from Kannur and one person each from Palakkad and Ernakulam districts.

Neighbour Karnataka sounds alert

An alert has been declared in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka as it shares its border with Kerala and a large number of people commute for health and education purposes. Other districts bordering Kerala like Udupi, Mysore, Kodagu and Chamarajanagara are also being continuously monitored.

The district collector has called upon people to wash hands using detergents frequently and stay away from bats and pigs that cause the spread of the virus. Do not consume fruits that were partly eaten by birds and animals, he said.

The state has decided to track all arrivals from Kerala especially those who show symptoms like fever, altered mental status, severe weakness, headache, respiratory distress, cough, vomiting, muscle pain, convulsion and diarrhea.

Covid contingency to aid in Nipah handling

As Kerala has been reeling under a daily increase of nearly 30,000 cases of Covid-19 contributing the lion’s share in India’s daily tally, the deadly Nipah virus has come as another thorn in its side. The southern state, which already saw a localised outbreak of 63 cases of Zika virus in July that were mostly confined to Thiruvananthapuram, however, need not be concerned about the spread of Nipah infection as preventive measures like use of masks and PPE kits are already in place due to Covid-19 and intensive contact tracing was going on, state health minister Veena George said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the central government has rushed a team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to provide support to the state. The Kerala government has also issued a Nipah management plan.

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The prime objective remains surveillance, testing and treatment of the patients. As part of surveillance, effective contact tracing and quarantine will be done. Treatment protocol will be strictly followed and it will be constantly monitored. The Nipah management plan will be coordinated at the state, district and hospital levels. Healthcare workers, field workers, doctors and other staff of private hospitals, and others will be given special training.

(With PTI inputs)

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first published:September 07, 2021, 18:43 IST