The second outbreak of a rare and often deadly disease- Nipah, is back in bulletins with a student in Kerala diagnosed with the infection, is a zoonotic virus. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nipah virus is a newly emerging disease that can be transmitted from its natural wildlife host, the flying foxes (fruit bats), to both animals and humans.
Kerala government has assured that adequate precautions are being taken to contain the Nipah virus and the general public need not panic. The ground situation, as compared to last year (when the state saw an outbreak of the infectious disease), is very different, around 40 to 45 different government agencies are co-operating to investigate the outbreak. They are better prepared to tackle the virus this time around and the response team is prepared this time.
A consultant for infectious diseases and infection control at the Kochi-based Aster Medcity hospital, Dr Anup Warrier, who is also treating the 23 year old Kochi student, gives an inside account of the situation, what to expect and precautions to be taken.
The present scenario of Nipah scare in Kerala
The situation is well in control with no further cases identified. There is no panic in the public and life in Kochi is as usual.
Number of patients tested positive and the bandwidth for treatment of so many people
There has been ONLY one positive patient yet!
The Ernakulam Medical College at Kalamasseri has a 38-bed Isolation facility - well prepared to manage such cases.
Precautions are taken for the medical staff who are treating the infected
All the medical staff who have been in close contact with the patient is under observation for symptoms of fever for at least 3 weeks. Those who had a fever in this duration have been tested and all are negative.
On the fatality of Nipah and chances of survival
Fatality is between 40% to 88% in various outbreaks. This depends on the strain of the virus, the severity of the illness and the supportive medical care offered.
Cause behind the sudden outbreak and is it seasonal?
We would expect seasonal cycles for many infectious diseases - e.g. Dengue, H1N1, etc. Also, we have not been testing all acute encephalitis for Nipah on a regular basis. Hence, it will be difficult to comment on this.
Extra measures taken in the last year
1. Sufficient availability of PPE and medicines
2. Rapid communication protocols
3. Focused implementation of protocols on the ground and close monitoring by the District Health Authorities
Symptoms to be vigilant about
Fever with acute respiratory symptoms and altered consciousness
Preventive measures that should be taken
Good personal hygiene, hand wash with soap after travel out of home and before eating, consumption of only washed and peeled fruits, use of mask if fever or visiting somebody with fever.