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West Nile virus in Kerala’s Thrissur?

Mosquitoes. West Nile virus, malaria, chikungunya, dengue - examples of mosquito-borne disease. Concept image. Kerala’s Thrissur district is on an alert following new reports of infections with the West Nile virus. 

Two individuals have been  diagnosed with the West Nile virus and encephalitis in the past fortnight, according to district medical officer (DMO) Dr K. J. Reena, who has announced efforts to contain the diseases. Both individuals are receiving treatment in district hospitals, the DMO added. 

The West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne disease that came to the attention of health authorities earlier this year after  it claimed the life of a seven-year-old in the Malappuram district. The case highlighteda condition that often goes under the radar in India compared to other vector-borne viruses such as dengue and chikungunya, despite being classified as “highly prevalent” in the country by the Indian National Health Portal.  

The disease is generally mild, presenting no symptoms in eighty percent of cases. Occasionally, however, it can be neuroinvasive. These instances can result in the patient developing encephalitis, a condition hallmarked by inflammation of the brain, which can prove lethal. This seems to have occurred in the infections of the two individuals in Thrissur.

The measures being taken by Thrissur authorities to contain a potential outbreak of the virus include the destruction of populations of the Culex genus of mosquitoes, one of the vectors of the disease, according to the DMO. Against the backdrop of the monsoon season, vigilance against vector-borne diseases is vital in the interest of public health. Kerala is acutely aware of this in light of the unprecedently heavy flooding which plagued the state last year. 

The aftermath of the flooding quickly gave way to fears that a number of infectious diseases could see the death toll rise further after hundreds had already perished. These fears were realised upon reports of outbreaks of acute diarrhoeal disease, dengue fever, and leptospirosis. Flooding provides an opportunity for a number of vector-borne diseases to spread in their aftermath, owing to pockets of stagnant water acting as new breeding sites for the vectors. 

This year, Kerala revamped its disaster management system ahead of the monsoon season. Integral to safeguarding the public will be to make sure that vigilance is high against vector-borne diseases, including the West Nile virus. The fatal virus can’t be underestimated given reports of its presence in the state and its relative obscurity contrasted with other conditions. Raising public awareness and ensuring alertness among officials at the state and district levels will be necessary to prevent the virus from spreading further.

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