Nipah virus has returned to haunt Kerala with a 12-year old boy on Sunday succumbing to the infection, the first such incident three years after it wrecked havoc in parts of Kozhikode and Malappuram districts of the state.
As Kerala reeled under a daily increase of nearly 30,000 cases of COVID-19, the deadly Nipah virus has come as another thorn in its side, prompting the state to further heighten the alertness of its health machinery to prevent an outbreak of a different infection.
Acting swiftly, the state and central governments rushed their teams to Kozhikode to assess the situation in the areas of Chathamangalam Panchayat.
State Health Minister Veena George, who is camping in Kozhikode district said situation was under control and there was no need for any panic. Meanwhile, a team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reached the state to provide support as two others also displayed symptoms of the virus infection.
The child developed fever on August 27 and was first admitted to a local clinic. Later, he was taken to a private hospital from where he was brought to the Medical College Hospital. However, he was shifted to another private hospital afterwards but died at 5 AM on Sunday.
The Health department has published the route map of the deceased child detailing the time and location where he had been since August 27. The government has also asked the public to approach the Health department in case of any symptoms related to Nipah.
Two healthcare workers, who are among the 20 high-risk contacts of the deceased 12-year old boy, have been identified with symptoms of Nipah virus infection, George said here on Sunday, adding that, all the high-risk contacts will be shifted to the Kozhikode Medical College.
“We have identified 188 contacts till now. The surveillance team have marked 20 of them as high-risk contacts. Two of these high risk contacts have symptoms. Both are healthcare workers. One works with a private hospital, while the other is a staff member of Kozhikode Medical College hospital,” she told reporters after chairing a high-level meeting to take stock of the situation.
Other contacts of the child have been asked to remain in isolation. The pay ward at the Medical College Hospital has been completely converted into a dedicated Nipah ward, she added.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday said ministers Veena George, A K Saseendran, P A Mohammed Riyas and Ahamed Devarkovil are coordinating the containment efforts.
Vijayan also informed that the government has ensured the availability of medicine and other related equipment.
“The ICMR has assured us that the monoclonal antibodies from Australia will be made available to us within seven days,” he said in a statement.
The Health department has traced all the close contacts of the child including the hospital staff.
Meanwhile, the 12-year old boy was laid to rest at nearby Kannambarath Khabaristan by Health department officials after following complete health protocols.
The officials, clad in PPE kits, performed the last rites. Only a few close relatives wearing similar gear, were in attendance. The Kozhikode corporation health staff sanitised the entire area after the rituals. Later, the body was buried in a 12-foot specially prepared grave.
The samples of the boy, which were sent to the National Institute of Virology, Pune, confirmed presence of the virus. George said the three km radius from the child’s house has been made a strict containment zone. The adjacent areas are also under strict surveillance.
“We have asked the Pune NIV authorities to arrange a point-of-care testing facility at the Kozhikode Medical College hospital. The NIV team will reach here and will do the needful. If in the initial test, the patient is found positive, then the sample will be sent to Pune NIV again for confirmation. That result will be made available within 12 hours,” George added.
The Health department has opened two dedicated phone lines at the Nipah ward of the medical college hospital –0495-2382500 and 0495-2382800.
The Minister said 16 teams have been formed for various purposes including contact tracing, surveillance, tracing the cause among other things.
The Minister had also said that it was being examined why the case was again reported in Kozhikode as had happened in 2018 when the first infection was recorded in the same district.
The first Nipah virus disease outbreak in South India was reported from Kozhikode district in Kerala on May 19, 2018. There have been 17 deaths and 18 confirmed cases as of June 1, 2018. The outbreak was contained and declared over by June 10, 2018.
Thereafter, in June 2019, a new case of Nipah was reported from Kochi and the sole patient was a 23-year old student, who later recovered.
With this year’s reporting of a case, it is the fifth time the virus has been detected in India and the third in Kerala.