Even as the Kerala Health Department is in the process of containing the Nipah virus that has already claimed the lives of eleven people in the state, the department now has a new challenge to tackle - fake messages and false information.
The state police on Wednesday warned of strict legal action against people spreading false information on Nipah virus through social media.
In a press release issued, Director General of Police (DGP) Loknath Behera took note of the messages circulating on social media platforms and said that such content has caused panic among the people. Apart from creating such false messages, even forwarding and circulating them will attract police investigation, the DGP said.
The notice was issued in the wake of several false messages circulating on various social media platforms regarding the spread of Nipah virus.
Kerala governor P Sathasivam also cautioned people against false messages circulating on social media. He asked the people not to panic and urged people to follow advisories issued by the health department.
One such message created to induce panic asked people not to travel to Kerala, since "there is an outbreak of Nipah virus and the situation is alarming." The message also said that nobody from Kerala must be allowed to enter Goa, "by road, air, train or ship without checkups."
The fake message speculates that Nipah virus will spread to Goa in a week's time and to Mumbai in eight days' time, saying that people should not come in contact with those who return from Kozhikode in Kerala.
In the notice issued by the state police, the DGP said that messages asking people not to visit Kerala or asking people not to allow Keralites to travel elsewhere, are false.
"Such messages have caused panic among the people. No official agency has issued such an advisory," the DGP said.
Another audio message in Malayalam says that fruit bats are not the carriers of Nipah virus and that the real reason for the spread of the virus are due to migrant workers, whose living conditions are unhygienic.
'Nipah a creation of health dept,' claims naturopathy practitioners
While WhatsApp forwards on Nipah virus continue to be circulated, naturopathy practitioners from Kerala, who have significant social media presence, have countered the official information on Nipah.
In a video posted on Facebook, Mohanan Vaidyar, a naturopathy practitioner claimed that Nipah virus was a creation of the health department.
In the 3-minute video, Mohanan carries out a demonstration with mangoes, which he claimed were bitten by bats at Perambra in Kozhikode, where a few people were infected with the virus.
"I am not even going to wash these, how can we live if we begin to fear bacteria and virus?" he asks, proceeding to cut the mangoes and eat them.
"If this is virus, I will die tomorrow. What are they saying...wash it with soap, don't go near a cow! Nipah fever is a project of the health department. It is the health department that is creating this fever. If bats were responsible, then they would have died first of the fever! But bats haven't died," Mohanan claimed.
Another naturopathy practitioner Jacob Vadakkanchery claimed that pesticides sprayed on food items could be the reason for the fever.
"What nonsense is the health department saying? Itâ€™s a rare virus, spread by fruit-eating bats. Medical mafia is creating all this. They say leptospirosis spreads through rat's urine, they say dengue is caused by mosquitos. They are all lies, if it were so, then why donâ€™t people living under unhygienic conditions on the road side, contract these diseases? What the health department must check is what kind of food the patients ate. Did they consume stale food, especially non-veg food? Then they have to check what kind of pesticides were used on these animals, that were consumed. Pesticides can cause new kind of diseases," Jacob claimed.
IMA demands action
In a letter to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, IMA stated that there were people with vested interests, who were wrongly propagating information about Nipah virus.
"It has come to our notice that there are certain people who claim to have vaccines. We urge you to take action against these people. Quacks too, are spreading false and harmful information and we urge you to order an investigation against them," the letter reads.
As of date, there is no vaccine or cure for Nipah virus. Only supportive care based on symptoms are being administered to Nipah patients.