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A resurgence of the Nipah virus?

India quelled an outbreak of the Nipah virus last year with globally praised efficiency. However, recent news indicates the virus could be back in India.

Indian flying foxes, a species of fruit bat considered to be a natural reservoir for the Nipah virus.

A resurgence of Nipah is a worrisome prospect due to the threat it poses to life. The condition has a seventy percent mortality rate, consequently ranking among some of the deadliest diseases in the world.

India’s response to an outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala last year averted what could have been a public health crisis. “The medical and public health response in Kerala prevented it from becoming much worse,” said Dr Daniel R. Lucey, an adjunct professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center in the US.

While the response was rapid and thorough enough for authorities to declare that the disease was gone, this may not be the case. Alarms are once again ringing across Kerala as a 23-year-old man in the Ernakulam district has tested positive in initial examinations for the Nipah virus.

State health minister KK Shailaja announced the results of the test from the Kerala State Institute of Virology and Infectious Diseases in Alleppey. The announcement has sparked fears of a second outbreak of the disease.

The virus is passed on from animals to humans and is most commonly known to be passed on through fruit bats. This typically limits the condition to rural areas or urban areas within close proximity of forestry, though it is not entirely isolated to these regions.

Bites or direct contact with the animal are not necessarily required to pass on the infection. One of the more common means of infection is through drinking raw date palm sap. Animals that have urinated or defecated on this date palm sap can leave traces of the virus. This in turn passes the virus on to humans that consume the sap.

Due to the means of transmission, it was always possible that animals harbouring the virus could infect humans at a later date following India’s initial outbreak last year.

As a testament to India’s previous proficiency at dealing with Nipah outbreaks, the response has again been rapid. The State Health Minister will be staying in Kochi to coordinate the state government’s response to the resurfacing of the disease, including administering screening programmes. Fever clinics and isolation wards in three medical colleges in Kozhikode, Thrissur and Ernakulam have been opened. Doctors present during the outbreak of Nipah in Kozhikode last year have also been gathered to aid in working to avert a second outbreak.

The infected individual is thought to have contracted the disease from his hostel in Thodupuzha in the Idukki district. A list of around fifty individuals has been drawn up, consisting of people who have interacted with the infected man over the last two weeks. These people have been requested to undergo testing to confirm whether they may have also been infected.

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