Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus that can cause severe respiratory and neurological disease in humans and animals. It was first identified in 1998 during an outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness among pig farmers and people with close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore. The virus is named after the village of Sungai Nipah, where the first human cases were reported.
Nipah virus can be transmitted from animals to humans through direct contact with infected bats, pigs, or other animals, or through consumption of contaminated food or water. Human-to-human transmission can also occur through close contact with infected people or their body fluids. The incubation period of the virus ranges from four to 14 days, and the symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, and seizures. There is no specific treatment or vaccine for Nipah virus infection, and the case fatality rate can be as high as 75%.
How did the outbreak occur in Kerala?
The latest outbreak of Nipah virus infection in Kerala occurred in September 2023, when a 12-year-old boy from Kozhikode district developed symptoms of fever, headache, and vomiting. He was admitted to a hospital on September 1 and died on September 5. His samples tested positive for Nipah virus by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune.
Following his death, five more people who had contact with him were found to be infected with Nipah virus. Two of them, a health worker and a relative of the boy, also died of the infection. The other three recovered after receiving supportive care and monoclonal antibody therapy. The state health department traced and monitored over 300 contacts of the confirmed cases and isolated them in designated hospitals. No new cases have been reported since September 18.
What is the source of the infection and how is it being contained?
The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has confirmed the presence of Nipah virus antibody in bat samples collected from Maruthonkara in Kozhikode district, where the boy lived. This indicates that bats are the likely reservoir hosts of the virus in the area. The ICMR has also collected samples from other animals such as pigs, dogs, cows, goats, and chickens to test for Nipah virus.
The state health department has taken several measures to prevent further spread of the infection, such as:
- Conducting active surveillance and contact tracing
- Enhancing laboratory testing and diagnosis
- Providing infection prevention and control guidelines
- Educating the public about the signs and symptoms of Nipah virus infection and the ways to avoid exposure
- Coordinating with central agencies such as ICMR, NIV, and National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)
- Seeking assistance from international experts such as World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
What are the challenges and implications of the outbreak?
The outbreak of Nipah virus infection in Kerala poses several challenges and implications for public health and socio-economic development. Some of them are:
- The risk of further transmission and emergence of new variants of the virus
- The lack of specific treatment or vaccine for Nipah virus infection
- The high mortality rate and long-term complications of Nipah virus infection
- The stigma and discrimination faced by the affected people and their families
- The impact on the livelihoods and well-being of the people dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry
- The need for strengthening surveillance, preparedness, and response systems for emerging infectious diseases