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Nipah Virus: India’s Kerala Reported 2 Dead in Kozhikode

The southern Indian state of Kerala is facing a critical public health challenge with the outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus. This virus, known for its high death rate and potential to cause extreme illness in people, has reemerged in Kerala, prompting critical worries among public and health authorities.

Nipah Virus: India's Kerala Reported 2 Dead in Kozhikode

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The Nipah virus, first identified in 1999 during outbreaks in Malaysia and Singapore, is a zoonotic virus, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans. This virus belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family and is primarily associated with fruit bats (Pteropodidae), which serve as natural hosts.

Nipah virus infections can lead to a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic cases to severe respiratory infections and fatal encephalitis.

One of the most disturbing parts of Nipah virus diseases is its high death rate, assessed to be somewhere in the range of 40% and 75%. This rate can vary depending on factors such as the availability of medical resources and the quality of healthcare provided during outbreaks.

The new Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala is certainly not a segregated occurrence. The state has encountered several outbreaks of this virus since 2018.

In the first outbreak in 2018, 23 cases were identified, with a staggering 17 fatalities. This outbreak raised alarm bells and highlighted the need for robust measures to combat the virus.

In subsequent years, Kerala faced Nipah outbreaks in 2019 and 2021, claiming two more lives. These recurrent outbreaks have posed a significant public health challenge and prompted authorities to devise strategies for early detection and containment.

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The ongoing Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala started with two deaths, one on August 30 and one more recently, both happening in the Kozhikode area.

Subsequent testing confirmed Nipah virus infection as the cause of these fatalities. Two relatives of one of the deceased individuals also tested positive for the virus and are currently receiving treatment in the hospital.

In response to the outbreak, health authorities in Kerala have quickly started a progression of measures. Contact following and early testing of people who might have come into contact with infected persons have been a top priority.

As of the latest reports, 168 contacts of the two deceased individuals have been identified and are undergoing testing for the virus.

To prevent the further spread of the infection, authorities have declared seven villages in the Kozhikode district as containment zones.

In these areas, strict isolation rules have been enforced, and public movement has been restricted. Only outlets selling essential items, such as food and medicines, are allowed to open, and their working hours are limited.

Recognizing the risk posed to students, Education Minister V Sivankutty has directed the Public Education Director to organize online classes for students in containment zones. This measure aims to ensure that education continues while reducing the risk of virus transmission in schools.

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The closeness of Kerala to adjoining states, including Tamil Nadu, has prompted cross-border health alerts. Authorities in Tamil Nadu have deployed teams to screen passengers coming from Kerala, particularly in border areas. This cooperative methodology is fundamental to keep the infection from spreading past state limits.

To gain a better understanding of the virus and its transmission dynamics, three federal teams, including experts from the National Virology Institute, have been dispatched to Kerala.

Their tasks include conducting additional tests and surveying the fruit bat population in isolated villages, as bats are known to be natural hosts of the Nipah virus.

One of the underlying factors contributing to Nipah virus outbreaks is habitat loss and changes in the environment.

As human activities encroach upon natural habitats, animals, including bats, are forced into closer proximity with humans. This proximity creates ideal conditions for zoonotic transmission, where viruses can jump from animals to humans.

The consumption of contaminated food products, such as date-palm sap, has been linked to previous Nipah virus infections in South Asia. Bats, through their excreta, can contaminate these food sources, making them a potential vehicle for virus transmission.

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