Kerala doctor performs last rites for Nipah virus victims after families keep away
With close relatives staying away due to the fear of contracting the deadly virus, Dr RS Gopakumar, the health officer of Kozhikode corporation, took the responsibility of handling the final rites of 12 bodies.
“I was a pall bearer for three bodies and performed their last rites too,” the 41-year-old told PTI.
So far, 12 people have died of the virus – 14 in Kozhikode and three in neighbouring Malappuram since its outbreak last month.
On Tuesday, the state government updated the toll to 17 to include the death of Mohammed Sabith, the first victim, whose samples had not been tested for Nipah.
Gopakumar said he performed the last rites of a 17-year-old boy who died of Nipah as his mother was in the isolation ward for suspected virus infection.
The woman, who was unable to see her son for the last time, permitted Dr Gopakumar to perform the rituals.
“I was saddened that during his last journey there was none of his dear ones to perform last rites. I did not have to think twice.. and I decided to perform all Hindu rites for the boy as I wanted him to go on his final journey with all the dignity. It was my duty...,” he said.
After relatives of a 53-year-old man, who died of Nipah, informed him that they were not participating in the funeral, he conducted the final rites for him too.
Another last journey which tugged his heart was when he assisted the husband of a 19-year-old woman.
The woman, who allegedly consumed poison, had been brought to a hospital in Kozhikode from Karnataka when some persons who were later found to be positive for Nipah, were treated near her bed.
However, the woman’s samples tested negative for the virus.
Extreme caution required in handling infected bodies
Extreme care and standing operating procedures have been laid down by the experts of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for handling Nipah affected bodies during the cremation and burial as exposure to Nipah virus (NiV) is highly hazardous.
Secretion and excretion from a deceased person are considered equally infectious like that of a living infected person.
As part of the standard procedures, the bodies should not be sprayed, washed or embalmed and personnel handling remains have to wear protective equipment like gloves, gowns, N95 masks, eye protection shield and shoe cover.
Gopakumar said he had overseen the funeral of 61 year-old Moosa, whose two sons and brother’s wife had fallen victim to Nipah virus.
It is suspected that during the ritual of bathing of Sabith’s body, Moosa and his younger son might have contracted the virus, he said.
A 10-feet pit was dug and 5 kg of bleaching powder was spread inside the pit. The body was packed in an air-tight plastic double body bag and then lowered into the pit.
Dr Reshma Sahay, Scientist from the National Virology Institute, Pune was present as she had handled Ebola cases earlier.
“We followed Ebola protocol for the burial,” Dr Gopakumar said.
Of the 12 bodies, eight were Nipah positive cases and four were suspected cases which later turned out to be negative.
Patients’ relatives performed rites for nine of the bodies.
There were situations when the staff in Kozhikode crematorium refused to perform the last rites of some Nipah victims due to fear.
The natural host of the virus is believed to be fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus.
The body was in the ambulance for few hours after which people from Ivor madom, who conduct funeral rites on the banks of Bharatha puzha, had to be called to do the final rites, he said.