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How 3 Kerala doctors spotted deadly Nipah virus, acted quickly

Critical care specialist Dr AS Anoop Kumar noticed strange symptoms in one of the patients admitted to the Baby Memorial Hospital. He immediately spoke with two of his young colleagues, who agreed they were dealing with an unknown virus, which was later identified as Nipah.

india Updated: May 25, 2018 18:36 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Nipah,Nipah virus,Kerala
Relatives and hospital officals wear safety masks as they perform the last rites of a Nipah virus victim at a graveyrad in Kozhikode. (PTI Photo)

Three doctors in Kerala are being praised for their promptness that helped avoid a more devastating outbreak of the Nipah virus that has killed 12 people and affected 20 more in the state so far.

Critical care specialist Dr AS Anoop Kumar noticed strange symptoms in one of the patients admitted to the Baby Memorial Hospital with signs of encephalitis during his usual round in the wards in the evening of May 17.

Mohammed Saliah was one of the 22 patients at the hospital, a leading private healthcare facility in north Kerala’s Kozhikode. In patients with acute encephalitis, their blood pressure and heartbeat usually go down but in Saliah’s case his blood pressure was rising and pulse rate was also swinging alarmingly.

He immediately spoke with two of his young colleagues, Dr Ajith K Gopan and Dr Ganga Prasad, who agreed they were dealing with a new kind of symptoms likely triggered by an unknown virus.

As the 28-year-old Saliah was slowly dipping into a coma they decided to shift him to the critical care unit and kept a safe distance from other patients.

“His clinical symptoms were not typical of the usual type of encephalitis. We started observing him closely. When he started showing strange symptoms we summoned one of his attendants and he told us his brother died with similar symptoms two days ago,” Dr Anoop Kumar recalled.

Saliah died later in the night and the doctors’ team contacted Dr G Arun Kumar of the Manipal Centre for Viral Research and rushed his blood and fluid samples to him.

His father Valachekutti Moosa also succumbed to the rare disease on Thursday after fighting for his life for more than three weeks. Saliah’s younger brother Mohammed Sadiq, 26, and their 50-year-old aunt Mariumma also killed by the Nipah virus. A nurse, Lini, who treated them at a government hospital also succumbed to the viral disease.

The fiancée of Moosa’s eldest son Saliah is also in hospital with similar symptoms.

The next day the report confirmed the doctors’ worst fear and they alerted the state health officials. They also advised the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital to conduct a pathological autopsy and dispose of the body with utmost caution.

But the state government broke the news only on May 20 when the results from the National Institute of Virology in Pune confirmed the three initial cases.

It said they died of the Nipah virus that causes high fever, headache and coma in extreme cases is spread by fruit bats. Body fluids can cause human-to-human transmission of Nipah, which has a mortality rate of 70% and has no vaccine.

The bats living in Moosa family’s well have been identified as the source of the outbreak by National Institute of Virology and has been sealed, along with many others in the neighbourhood.

Though bats are suspected to be the main culprits behind Nipah’s spread, experts are divided over this. Epidemiologists and virologists are also investigating whether the outbreak of Nipah, a zoonotic disease that is usually transmitted to humans from fruit bats, could be the result of human-to-human transmission.

Health officials said early detection contained the damage well and the state really owed this to the quick response of three doctors of the hospital and Manipal’s Dr Arun Kumar, who is camping in Kozhikode since the outbreak.

A senior health official said the state would felicitate these heroes later.

“The early detection and the well-oiled medical infrastructure in the state did wonders. If the outbreak happened in other states like Uttar Pradesh the situation would have been bleak,” the officer said.

First Published: May 25, 2018 17:57 IST