Kerala is facing yet another public health crisis with a 23-year-old student being diagnosed with the deadly Nipah virus on Tuesday, little more than a year after the virus claimed 17 lives in the Calicut and Malappuram districts of the state in May 2018. The administration has kept 311 people who were suspected to have come in contact with the student in isolation to prevent the spread of the virus.
The challenge of tackling the health crisis seems to be bigger this year, with the state government putting four larger districts, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kollam, and Idukki, on high alert as the student had reportedly travelled through the region recently.
The Nipah virus, which spreads through direct contact with infected people, bats, and pigs, or even from contaminated fruit eaten by bats, causes respiratory and encephalitic diseases with a 70% mortality rate. So far, no therapeutics or vaccines have been approved for use in humans against the virus.
Four people other than student, including three nurses who had attended to the 23-year-old and a fellow student, were admitted to the Government Medical College, Ernakulam, with high fever, the state government said.
There was some relief in the midst of the scare with officials at Aster Medcity, Kochi, where the student is admitted saying that his health is “slowly improving".
“He would fall unconscious earlier. That is not the scene today. Generally, people with high immunity have a better chance of surviving," one person associated with the hospital said on Tuesday evening, requesting anonymity.
Earlier in the day, Kerala’s health minister K.K. Shailaja confirmed that the lab tests on the student done at the Pune-based National Institute of Virology had confirmed Nipah. “Efforts to tackle Nipah are progressing on war footing. A rapid response team has been formed for coordinating the efforts of various departments. An expert team from Kozhikode (that tackled the virus last year) has also arrived in Kochi," said the minister.
“The public must take precautions, but have no reason to panic. Especially trained medical professionals are leading the treatment efforts," Shailaja said.
The government has also set up helpline numbers 1077 and 1056 as part of steps to tackle the virus.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan spoke to Shailaja and assured all support from the centre. “I have assured the Kerala health minister of all possible support from the central government. We are also in touch with the wildlife department to seek their help in subjecting bats for testing of the virus. I don’t think there is any need to panic," said Vardhan.
The Union minister also deployed a central team of six officers for epidemiological investigation protocol. The team will conduct contact tracing for early detection of suspects, test protocols for suspects and also review isolation facilities.
The Union health ministry has also established a control room (011-23978046) and activated the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC). Two teams from NIV Pune, one with monoclonal antibodies and another for testing bats for Nipah virus, were dispatched on Tuesday.
The state government has also expanded its contact tracing and surveillance, apart from setting up isolation wards in three of the biggest medical colleges in central Kerala. It had drawn up a list of 86 suspected cases by Tuesday morning for monitoring. By evening, the numbers had gone up to 311.