Kerala on alert as Nipah virus scare returns
A year after an outbreak of Nipah virus infection claimed 17 lives in north Kerala, fear has gripped the state again as a 23-year-old man has been hospitalised with “Nipah-like” symptoms in Ernakulam.
State health minister KK Shailaja on Monday morning said the 23-year-old engineering graduate had tested positive for the virus at the Kerala State Institute of Virology and Infectious Diseases in Alappuzha. But she retracted her statement in the evening, saying that his symptoms were “Nipah -like”.
She said a clear picture will emerge after the diagnosis is confirmed by India’s apex diagnostic lab, National Institute of Virology, in Pune.
“It is not yet confirmed. Doctors said his symptoms are Nipah-like... Results from Pune are expected either by Monday night or Tuesday morning. At least 86 persons, who were in contact with the patient, are under observation,” she said. Shailaja added that no other cases had been reported from Ernakulam and the neighbouring districts.
Shailaja has been camping in Kochi to coordinate measures to contain a possible Nipah virus infection outbreak.
Hospitals have opened fever clinics and isolation wards in Kozhikode, Thrissur, and Ernakulam to deal with the situation.
Doctors, who treated Nipah patients in Kozhikode last year, have been moved to Kochi. Help has also been sought from experts at Karnataka’s Manipal Institute of Virology.
Since the usual incubation period or the interval from infection to the onset of symptoms ranges from 4 to 14 days, people who have been in contact with the 23-year-old over the past two weeks have been asked to get screened.
Thrissur’s district medical officer, K G Reena, said a list of 50 people, including medical professionals who treated the patient, has been made and they will be under observation for two weeks.
Two relatives, who were in close contact with the patient, have also been quarantined. The patient’s father said he developed a fever when he was interning in Thrissur 10 days ago.
Doctors said though the patient had developed encephalitis (swelling in the membranes of the brain), he was responding well to treatment.
He was moved to an isolation ward and his blood samples were sent to two virology institutes for tests—Manipal Virology Institute and Kerala State Institute of Virology and Infectious Diseases on Saturday. On Sunday, his blood samples were sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune for confirmation. Shailaja said she was in touch with the Union health ministry and a team was expected on Tuesday.
The outbreak in May last year had claimed 17 lives, including that of a nurse Lini Puthussery, who was part of a team treating one of the patients. The outbreak was localised in two districts and contained within two weeks.
The experience of containing last year’s outbreak has helped in formulating a faster response this year, said state health department officials.