The ruling Kerala government will hold a prevention drive against the deadly Nipah virus, which the state successfully fought for two consecutive years, in 2018 and 2019. The mock drill is to help the state’s health machinery, including major private hospitals, to help fight the deadly virus successfully, said state health minister KK Shylaja, who is also widely called Shylaja teacher.
In 2018, Kerala witnessed a Nipah outbreak in the districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram, which claimed 17 lives. The outbreak was finally contained and declared 'over' on June 10, 2018. This year, the virus resurfaced in Kerala when a 23-year-old student was tested positive. He was discharged after being treated and placed under surveillance for 53 days. No deaths were reported this year.
Speaking at the Assembly session, Shylaja teacher said that the state had contained the spread of the virus in a remarkable manner last time through coordinated efforts. This time, the prevention drive will begin in December. This drive will include extensive surveillance and mock drills in all major hospitals, including those in the private sector.
Nipah virus is found to be transmitted from animals such as pigs and bats to human beings. Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are found to be natural carriers of the virus. In Kerala’s virus outbreak in 2018, fruit bats were found to be the transmitters of the virus.
According to the World Health Organisation, this virus is a newly emerging disease that can be transmitted from natural wildlife hosts to human beings. Kerala was lauded globally for the way the state tackled the outbreak, including quickly detecting it and putting in place firm measures to check its spread.
A total of four Nipah outbreaks have been reported in India so far, including the 2019 one in Kochi. Nipah has earlier claimed 45 lives in 2001 in Siliguri and five in 2007.
In 2018, the virus was confirmed in patients after their samples were sent for testing to the Manipal Institute of Virology. Although the first set of samples returned negative for Nipah, tests done later established that fruit bats in the area were the cause of the virus. A doctor from the National Institute of Virology was able to confirm that the organism was the nipah virus.
An institute of virology was set up in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram in February 2019 following the 2018 outbreak. The State Institute for Science and Technology was overseeing the functions of this institute. Not only are scientists working on diagnosing and studying various pathogens but they are also attempting to explain how these different organisms affect humans. They are also researching methods of preventing, tackling and controlling outbreaks.
The first ever reported outbreak of Nipah happened in 1998 in Malaysia. Over 100 people were infected in this outbreak. The infection can be transmitted via direct contact with an infected person or animal or through the carrier of the virus (usually fruit bats).
Drug trials and research into vaccines are being conducted but none have yet been introduced into the mainstream.