We anticipated the recurrence of Nipah, so surveillance was high: Kerala Health Minister

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on June 09, 2019 Published on June 09, 2019
Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja (file pic)

Kerala Health Minister K.K. Shailaja (file pic)   -  THE HINDU

Last week, the scare of Nipah gripped Kerala yet again, a year after the virus claimed 16 lives. The scourge has been better contained this year as the only case, a 23-year-old student, was detected on time and Nipah was contained. In an interview with BusinessLine, Kerala’s Health Minister KK Shailaja explains how this was achieved. Excerpts:

The Nipah virus claimed 16 lives last year and salvaging the first (index) case was not possible, but this year the index case of the 23-year-old student was detected on time. How did your team manage that?

We anticipated that Nipah could recur this year too. Hence, we kept our surveillance high and took precautions. We tested samples of each and every fever case for symptoms of cough, sore throat and encephalitis. Among those, the 23-year-old’s sample from Kochi turned out to be positive. We at once raised the contact list and quarantined hundreds of suspects. This is how we were able to contain it. The 23-year-old infected patient is a student studying in a polytechnic in Kerala. He went to another place for his training and then he went to his home in Kochi. He developed symptoms at his home which were picked up at the private hospital where he was admitted.

After last year’s experience, we are conducting a joint effort of government and private hospitals. We got together and discussed protocols affirming that even if any one in the private hospitals comes with symptoms of sore throat, fever, encephalitis etc, they should try and send samples to the National Institute of Virology for testing.

Through our experience last year, we furnished protocol and guidelines to act against Nipah. With that experience, we acted swiftly and more scientifically. Last year, we had contained the virus in a short span of time in a short circle. Yet, out of 18 positive cases, 16 died because of severe infection. As of now, no other person is infected, but I cannot predict what may happen tomorrow.

What treatment is being given to the 23-year-old patient? Have you administered monoclonal antibodies that were procured from the Centre?

The 23-year-old has regained consciousness, yet has mild fever. We have tried Ribavarin tablets on him. Nipah virus is such that one cannot predict. On some days, the patient shows very good signs of recovery, and suddenly they can become worse. We are hoping to save the 23-year-old. We did collect monoclonal antibodies but we have not given them to the patient. We had collected the medicine for a critical stage, in case more persons get infected, and show severe symptoms, then we can try the monoclonal antibodies with permission from the Indian Council of Medical Research.

How did Nipah make a comeback?

Scientists have warned us that there is a possibility that Nipah will recur each year. This is a newly emerging zoonosis.

They emerge throughout the globe because of climate change. Nipah can be backtracked up to 30 to 40 years. It first occurred in Malaysia, then Bangladesh, then in India in Siliguri, and last year it was found in Kozhikode. In Malaysia and Bangladesh, the virus was transmitted to pigs and horses and then from animals to human beings.

In Kerala, last year it occurred at around the same time as this year. Scientists are of the view that the natural carrier of Nipah is the fruit-eating bat. The virus is already in their bodies and it is not harmful unless the bats are excited or disturbed and the virus multiplies in their body. If the bats bite the fruits, the virus is transferred onto the fruits through saliva, and if any animal eats that fruit, the virus transfers onto the animal and so on.

Is there any message that you would like to give tourists...

There is absolutely nothing to worry about. Test results of all the suspected seven cases were negative. We have reopened our schools. I would simply like to say: do not eat fruits bitten by animals or birds. If you are touching something of that sort, please wash your hands with soap as hand hygiene is crucial, and drink only boiled water.

Published on June 09, 2019
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