Kerala: Toll in Nipah virus outbreak rises to 12

At least 11 people are known to have died of Nipah virus in the southern Indian state of Kerala

The virus can cause a range of mild to severe disease in domestic animals such as pigs while in humans, the infection causes a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infection and fatal encephalitis.

Three doctors had played a crucial role in identifying the Nipah virus that caused the deadly fever in Perambra near Kozhikode in Kerala.

"In the Bangladesh and India outbreaks, consumption of fruits or fruit products (e.g. raw date palm juice) contaminated with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats was the most likely source of infection", the World Health Organization explains. "We will follow all necessary protocols in case of outbreak of the virus here", IGIMS medical superintendent Dr Manish Mandal said.

Nipah has so far claimed 12 lives in Kerala, where surfaced a few days ago.

All the confirmed infections have involved people who caught the virus from the first victim while he was being treated, said microbiologist G. Arun Kumar.

In the wake of Nipah virus cases in Kerala, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has written to the Queensland government in Australia asking it to provide an antibody developed there to test if it can "neutralise" the virus in humans.

Carried by fruit bats Nipah virus has killed several people in southern India
Carried by fruit bats Nipah virus has killed several people in southern India

The virus, spread through contact with bodily fluids, has a mortality rate of about 70 per cent.

The health department has asked the Medical Officers, Block Medical Officers to strictly monitor all suspected cases on daily, weekly and monthly basis and the District Health Officer (Nodal Officer) ISDP to ensure daily reporting to the State Surveillance officer on daily basis. Officials are optimistic that samples of the second person, who is also in his mid-20s, will prove negative, as he has no history of having visited Kerala in the recent past. They, however, have not not ruled out the role of fruit bats in spreading the infection.

"If that contact group increases or travels to other places, the disease is likely to spread", Menon said.

"Infected people initially develop influenza-like symptoms of fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat". There is no treatment as such for it but supportive care is given to the affected patients, which means treating the symptoms differently. The virus kills up to 75 percent of those infected. Adequate precautionary measures include total isolation of infected persons and personal protection of those in close contact with the infected persons.

Numerous handful of mourners who turned out for the burial were also wearing breathing masks. "Mohap alerts the people travelling to Kerala to be aware of possibly of contracting the infection and advises them to postpone unnecessary travel till the situation will be controlled", it added.

Fruit bats eat dates from palm trees, and sometimes nest in wells.

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