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Mask sales soar as fear stalks Kochi after Nipah virus makes a comeback

Despite the Kerala’s health department’s requests to the public not to panic, fear is pervasive in Kochi where a 23-year-old engineering graduate tested positive for the deadly virus.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2019 22:44 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Kochi
Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja and IAS Collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla during a press conference on Tuesday to confirm that a 23-year-old college student admitted to a hospital in Kochi had been infected with the Nipah virus.(PTI)

Fear is quite palpable on the streets of Kochi in the wake of confirmation of the Nipah virus infecting a person in the state, a year after the deadly bug claimed 17 lives.

Many people have started wearing masks. Despite the state health department’s requests to the public not to panic, fear is pervasive in Kochi where a 23-year-old engineering graduate tested positive for the deadly virus. Two of his friends and two nurses who treated him were shifted to isolation wards and 311 others who came in contact with him are under observation.

Kerala’s health minister K K Shailaja has called a review meeting on Wednesday.

Health officials who described the situation as well under control, say they have not been able to confirm the source of the virus as the patient travelled to three districts in last 20 days. Though they scanned all three places where he stayed they could not locate either fruit bats or pigs, main carriers of the virus which has an incubation period of two weeks. Hectic efforts are on to locate the source.of the virus, they said.

Blood samples of five more persons will be sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune on Wednesday, officials said, These five are in isolation wards. Five persons have booked for spreading misinformation.

Many medical stores said demand for masks and gloves have increased manifold. Following the confirmation of the virus by the National Institute of Virology, fruit vendors said their sales dipped considerably. The health department has advised citizens not to eat bird-bitten fruits especially mango, guava and sapodilla (chickoo).

Fruit exporters of the state are staring at another meltdown. After last year’s Nipah outbreak, many countries in the Persian Gulf had banned imports from Kerala. The UAE and other countries had lifted the ban after two months but Saudi Arabia did so only last month. Kerala exports around 150 tonne of fruits and vegetables to the Middle east daily to cater to the huge NRI population there. Out of this, consignment to Saudi Arabia alone is between 30-40 tonne daily.

“We have resumed export to Saudi Arabia after much prodding. There is a possibility of tourist advisory and restrictions on export also. Last year I suffered a loss of more than Rs 3 crore. I don’t know what will happen now,” said A Sharf Ali, a fruits and vegetable exporter from Kozhikkode, north Kerala.

Also read: Kerala man tests positive for Nipah: All you need to know about the infection

Monthly fruit export from three airports, Kozhokkode, Kochi and Thiruvananthpauram is worth over Rs 50 crore. Pineapple export alone is over Rs five crore. And it is the season of mangoes also. Exporters fear that the latest scare may again lead to another ban on fruit exports.

The tourism sector is also staring at a bleak scene after a double whammy last year when the Nipah outbreak sparked mass cancellations before the worst floods in a century devastated the state.

But this time preparations are well in place and there is a systematic protocol to deal with the situation. Last year, health experts were initially caught on the wrong foot because Nipah was an unknown virus and there was no medicine or history of treatment and they were clueless about the carrier, thus impacting their ability to respond. Despite these handicaps they fought back valiantly and contained its secondary infection and nursed two Nipah-positive patients, M Ajanya,a nursing student and Ubeesh, a male nurse, back to health.

“This time the state has evolved a protocol to deal with the situation. Even before confirmation came, the list of people who were in contact with the patient were prepared and contacted. It seems infection is likely to be the index case. No other cases were reported from the area where the youth frequented,” said A S Anoop Kumar, head of the critical care unit of the Baby Memorial Hospital in Kozhikkode, who was the first to diagnose the viral infection last year.

In an ironic coincidence amid the second outbreak of Nipah, a movie named ‘Virus’ depicting the life of nurse Lini Puthussery who died after contracting the virus while taking care of a patient is set to release on June 7. Lini was the mother of two children. Later the state government gave a job to her husband.

First Published: Jun 04, 2019 17:44 IST