September 24, 2023
By Hasanki Kasthuriarachchi
A new outbreak of the rare but deadly Nipah virus has emerged in the Southern Indian state of Kerala, causing significant concern among the public. The government has taken steps to curb the virus's spread by closing schools, offices, and other means of transportation.
Origins and past outbreaks
The Nipah virus, scientifically known as Nipah Henipavirus, was first reported in Malaysia in 1999 and has caused several outbreaks in Southeast Asia, resulting in severe symptoms and fatalities among those infected. This virus was identified in Bangladesh in 2001, and minor annual outbreaks have occurred in the country ever since. Eastern India has also been a victim of this virus on several occasions.
What is Nipah?
Nipah is a bat-borne virus, primarily transmitted from fruit bats to humans, either directly or through contaminated fruit or bat excreta. Infection from an infected individual to another is also possible. A letter written by a nurse from Kerala minutes before she succumbed to Nipah reads, "I am almost on the way. I do not think I can meet you," and she further requests her husband to raise their children well.
Current outbreak conditions
The recent reports of Nipah cases come from India's Southern Kerala State, and health authorities are alert to the symptoms exhibited by the infected. Infected individuals in the early stages display symptoms including fever, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting, and sore throat.
Swift responses and actions to be taken Health authorities, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), have rapidly implemented containment measures to prevent the further spread of the virus. However, according to the information available, there is no specific vaccination against the virus. Measures to prevent its spread include:
· Isolation and quarantine: Infected individuals have been isolated to prevent further transmission of the virus. The incubation period is believed to range from 4 to 14 days.
· Contact tracing: It is crucial to identify individuals associated with the infected or those who have been directly exposed to the virus.
· Health education: Communities should be informed or educated about the Nipah virus, its transmission methods, preventive measures, and the importance of avoiding contact with sick animals and contaminated fruits.
· Vaccination: While no specific vaccine for the Nipah virus is currently available, intensive symptomatic treatment is recommended.
In the absence of a specific vaccine, the health sector should focus on relevant criteria to prevent and reduce the Nipah virus. The public should be more attentive to the consumption of fruits that may be contaminated by animals, and fruits with bite marks should not be consumed.
The resurgence of the Nipah virus in Kerala serves as a stark reminder of the persistent threat posed by infectious diseases with zoonotic origins. Therefore, the healthcare sector should collaborate with local and international health authorities to prevent the virus from spreading worldwide. The Nipah virus should not trigger another lockdown.
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