Kerala on red alert, but ‘there’s no public health emergency yet’

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on May 21, 2018 Published on May 21, 2018

A duty doctor in Kozhikode Medical College wears a mask to attend to those affected by the Nipah virus protection, on Monday   -  S RAMESH KURUP

Infected dates suspected to be among causes

With the death toll from the Nipah virus rising, and Kerala being put on a State alert, doctors say the local outbreak can be contained, and that it is not a public health emergency situation.

Kozhikode District Medical Officer V Jayasree told BusinessLine there have been three virologically confirmed cases and two confirmed deaths. Subsequently, there have been three other deaths, but they are being investigated, she said, adding that four other patients are also under observation.

While the health authorities are pulling out all stops to contain the virus and investigate its source, KK Aggarwal, former head of the Indian Medical Association, said doctors across the country need to be alert if anyone travelling from Kerala comes to them with symptoms caused by the Nipah virus, including fever, headache, respiratory trouble and shortness of breath. The person then needs to be isolated and given supportive treatment.

Pointing out that the public health system in Kerala is among the best in the country, he said the source of the Nipah virus is known to be zoonotic, that is, it spreads from animals to man; in this case fruit-bats. However, the transmission could be among humans too, he added. He clarified that the viral infection was not air-borne and spreads only through close contact. Medical doctor KV Babu commended the district medical office for identifying the virus quickly, so that follow-up action could be taken quickly. In fact, the Nipah is being reported in India after 17 years. It was last reported in 2001 in Siliguri.

Source of virus

There is a geographical distance between these two locations (Siliguri and Kozhikode) and fruit-bats do not fly long distances, says George Varghese, CMC Vellore’s professor of infectious diseases, trying to trace the source of the virus.

The other two regions that have in the past reported the virus are Malaysia and Bangladesh. As investigations are under way on tracing the source, Dr Varghese looks at the affected population and their prevailing food habits and says that infected dates could also be a possible source.

Meanwhile, the Centre has sent a team to review the spread of the virus in Kerala. In a statement from Geneva, Health Minister JP Nadda said a multi-disciplinary team from the National Centre for Disease Control would assist the State to closely monitor the situation.

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Published on May 21, 2018
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