Recurrent outbreaks of the Nipah virus in Kerala is a matter of concern. As a 12-year-old succumbed to the Nipah virus on September 5. The State is witnessing a third Nipah outbreak in four years. Health experts say that there should be a detailed study on bats and the cause for these outbreaks and how they can be prevented.
It was in 2018 that the State first witnessed the Nipah outbreak which claimed 17 lives. In 2019, one person was infected but he survived the virus. In 2021, a 12 -year-0ld boy from the Kozhikode district of Kerala has succumbed to the virus. One relief is that 10 samples of high-risk contacts including his symptomatic parents tested negative for Nipah. There are about 257 contacts that have been identified. Though most of them are from Kozhikode district there are also contacts from Kannur, Malappuram, Wayanad, Palakkad, Ernakulam and Kollam districts.
In the history of Nipah from the ’90s, there are about 25 outbreaks worldwide, of which the last three are from Kerala which is a matter of concern. Health experts say that in Kerala they can pick up the cases very early during the outbreak itself and the State is doing well in containing the situation but right now there need to be extensive studies on why the State is having recurrent outbreaks.
Dr T S Anish, associate professor of community medicine, Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, said, “We have a very good track record in containing Nipah but now it’s the time to study why the recurrent outbreaks of Nipah are happening in Kerala and how we can prevent it. Here we have to study more about bats, find out how many of the fruit bat species that are present in Kerala are infested by Nipah. Is there any species difference in this particular infection, where these particular species were located and what are the human bat interactions through which we will get the virus? We have to map these species infested by Nipah throughout Kerala.”
The doctor added that such a study is required in the coming years as the outbreak can be more frequent affecting different parts of the State.
Dr Anish added, “In the primary case or the index case of Nipah in 2018 has got severe respiratory symptoms. If they have more respiratory symptoms there is a chance of affecting more people in the vicinity. In 2019, and now, the symptoms are predominantly neurological.”
The health department has begun house to house surveillance in the panchayat where they will look for anyone with symptoms, cross-checking if they had any kind of contact with the affected case. They are also checking if bats are there on their premises or they have a history of eating bitten fruits or have contact with pigs.
The panchayat is on a complete lockdown and all districts have been asked to be cautious and follow the Nipah management plan.
The State animal husbandry department has collected samples of the rambutan fruit, bat droppings, samples from the goats in the house of the child. They are also collecting the blood samples of goats within a 1-km radius of the child’s house. All samples will be sent to the lab in Bhopal. The health department says there is no need for panic and also advises people to eat fruits only after thoroughly washing them and not to any kinds of fruits that are bitten and also to not feed bitten fruits to their domestic animals.