India's southern state of Kerala is rushing to contain a Nipah virus outbreak after a 12-year-old boy died from the disease over the past weekend.
The boy was taken to a private clinic in the city of Kozhikode with a nasty fever and other symptoms on August 29, Indian media reports. After being transferred to numerous different hospitals across the city, he died on the morning of September 5. Samples taken from the patient later confirmed the hospital’s suspicions that he had been infected by Nipah virus.
Nipah is a bat-borne virus that can cause a range of symptoms in humans ranging from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infection, seizures, comas, and lethal brain swelling. The virus spreads through direct contact with infected animals, such as bats or pigs, as well as close contact with an infected person or their body fluids. While outbreaks tend to cause a relatively low number of infections, it has a high fatality rate with death occurring in 40 to 70 percent of those infected.
Health authorities are reportedly keeping a close eye on 54 high-risk contacts, including the boy's family and 30 healthcare workers who have been in close proximity with him. At least 11 people are showing symptoms of Nipah virus. Worryingly, there are currently no licensed treatments or vaccines available for Nipah virus infections.
The disease was first identified in 1998 during an outbreak in Malaysia that caused 265 cases of acute encephalitis with 105 deaths. Malaysia has managed to avoid having any cases since 1999, but further outbreaks have continued to occur in Bangladesh and India over the past 20 years.
“This is the third time Nipah has been affected in the state. Earlier in 2018 and 2019, the Nipah virus was confirmed,” Kerala Health Services said in a statement.
Kerala Health Services also issued the public with advice on how to prevent further spread of the virus, such as practicing good hygiene, avoiding sick farm animals, and staying out of bat habitats. Officials will also be raising awareness of the disease and carrying out door-to-door surveillance to identify possible contacts of the infected. The Department of Animal Husbandry are awaiting test results from samples collected from two sick goats kept at the property of the boy's family.
This Nipah outbreak comes while Kerala is being swamped with a surge of COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the southern Indian state recorded nearly 20,000 COVID-19 cases out of India’s daily total of 31,222, according to the Associated Press.
In recent years, there have been mounting concerns that a severe Nipah outbreak could hit Asia, and health authorities have previously speculated that the virus has the potential to cause a global pandemic. Fortunately, the situation in Kerala is currently not of huge global concern and, if previous outbreaks are anything to go, it is possible to contain the disease. Nevertheless, it's clear that India is very keen to put out this fire before things become more severe.