Kerala’s health sector has been dealt a severe blow after the National Institute of Virology in Pune confirmed on Sunday night that the suspected virus that had led to the death of three of a family in Kozhikode was indeed the dreaded Nipah virus.
With the casualty figure touching ten within the past 48 hours, the state’s public health department is in a state of shock and disarray. While the blood samples of four deceased had confirmed the virus, the rest were being tested at the institute in Pune at the time of filing of this report.
The state health department has also confirmed that at least 25 people with similar symptoms are under observation at various hospitals in Kozhikode district where the outbreak initially took place.
The entry of Nipah, or Henipavirus as it is known in medical parlance, in this part of the world has made things difficult for the medical community. Doctors do not have prior experience in this regard, and are struggling to contain the spread of the disease.
At the time of filing this report, a high-level emergency meeting chaired by the state health minister was on at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital. A medical alert has also been sounded across the state, with district collectors asked to be ready for any eventuality.
“The state has been put on a high alert after we got the confirmation. The central government has also been informed. We have also asked private hospitals to provide all help to patients. Their treatment cost will be borne by the state,’’ KK Shailaja, Minister for Health and Social Welfare told mediapersons in Kozhikode.
Recently, a family of three had died at a village in Chengaroth in Kozhikode district due to symptoms similar to encephalitis. Muhammed Salih and his brother Sabith, aged 26 and 23, and their maternal aunt Mariyam, aged 50, were the first victims of Nipah.
As doctors were unable to get answers about which virus led to the disease, their samples were rushed to Pune. From there, the much-feared confirmation came in on Sunday evening. But by then, two more deaths had been reported. At least one of them, Ismail, had come into contact with the deceased Sabith while in hospital.
But what has set alarm bells ringing for the authorities is the death of a nurse, Lini, who had attended on one of the victims in the government hospital. With consent from her family, Lini’s body was cremated by the state itself without being taken to her house, summing up the alarming situation.
“Even though we say there is no need to panic, we are still in a state of shock after Lini’s death. It only shows how unprepared we are in dealing with a situation like this,’’ said one doctor based in Kozhikode on the condition of anonymity.
The government has meanwhile rushed in more health officials to Perambra and adjoining areas. All hospitals in the area have been advised to quarantine patients who show similar symptoms.
“There is no need to panic as the outbreak is confined to a small area. But we have formed task force teams to ensure that the outbreak is contained at the earliest. The priority before the government now is to minimise deaths. We are doing all that is possible to ensure this,’’ added the health minister.