46 more test negative for Nipah virus, Kerala minister says worst is over
Kerala health minister Veena George said samples of all close contacts of a boy who died due to Nipah on Sunday, including his parents and health workers, turned negative, adding that the government would maintain strict vigil for three more weeks
As many as 46 people with symptoms of Nipah tested negative on Wednesday in Kozikode, said Kerala health minister Veena George, adding the north Kerala district is almost out of a serious outbreak.
The minister said samples of all close contacts of a boy who died due to Nipah on Sunday, including his parents and health workers, turned negative, adding that the government would maintain strict vigil for three more weeks. Since majority of immediate contacts are out of infection, George said the worst was over.
“It is a great relief all samples turned negative so far. But we will not lower our guard. All restrictions will be in force till the window period of the virus (3 weeks) is over,” the minister said, adding 21 more results will be expected any time while 50 people with symptoms are still in the hospital and another 190 under observation.
She said that going by the preliminary reports, bats are suspected to be the main carrier, but more studies needed to pinpoint the triggering agent. Many experts said the affected areas are also infested with wild boars and their samples will also be taken for testing.
A team from the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases Laboratory from Bhopal, which has arrived in Kozikode city, will co-ordinate more such studies, George said.
Forest minister AK Saseendran, also camping in the north Kerala city, said special permission will be granted to capture boars and other wild animals for testing. Samples of domestic animals and pet were also taken to weed out suspicion, Saseendran said.
Expert said strict protocol in place due to Covid-19, like masking, physical distancing and no overcrowding, really helped the state to blunt the impact of zoonotic disease again.
“Due to Covid-19 protocol this time, Nipah transmission will be limited. Prevention technique of Covid-19 really helped in fighting Nipah also,” said immunologist and public health expert D Padmanabha Shenoy.
Like Shenoy, many experts said the main source of the virus should be identified at any cost to check its further outbreak. This is the third time the state is witnessing the onset of virus in four years. In 2018, the viral infection claimed 17 lives in Kozhikode; in 2019, a youth was infected in Ernakulam but later cured; and in 2021, a 12-year-old boy died due to Nipah virus in Kozhikode.
Zoonotic diseases on rise
Amid third onset of Niaph, recurring zoonotic diseases at regular intervals continues to worry the state. Several cases of Kyasnur forest disease, avian influenza, swine flu, anthrax and Nipah have been reported from the state in recent years.
Besides loss of human lives, such outbreaks also affect social and economic mobility of people and cripple their lives. Culling of poultry, ducks and other domestic animals has also become regular to check their transmission. Experts have asked the state government to formulate a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle such diseases and establish high-end labs for early diagnosis. They said zoonotic diseases are here to stay as human activities continue to disturb natural habitat and the state needs a single-window approach to tackle such maladies.
“It is a fact that zoonotic diseases appear at regular intervals in Kerala. Human and animal dependence, directly or indirectly, is more these days. We need a permanent single-window mechanism for early detection of such diseases and early warning to the people. More research is also needed in the area,” said Dr Prejit Nambiar, a teacher at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, who specialised in zoonoses and food safety.
He added that a close interaction is necessary among medical experts, veterinary professionals, environmental scientists and wildlife professionals to tackle the situation.
Many wildlife experts feel that such diseases can be checked by putting in place an effective surveillance mechanism and scientific disease management plans. In Kerala, there are enough wetland and water bodies, a preferred habitat for avian guests, which can easily transmit diseases to domestic birds.
“Animals like civet cats have almost turned urban as their natural habitat shrunk. Once found in forests only, peacocks are found in countryside in large numbers. Loss of habitats force monkeys, civets, bats and boars to human habitat. So, it is natural such diseases arise,” said wildlife expert Dr P S Esa.