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How Kerala is tackling the second Nipah outbreak

Health officials gear up for Nipah emergency

King George Hospital plans to open a special isolation ward on its premises.

June 07, 2019 01:35 am | Updated 07:32 am IST - VISAKHAPATNAM

The detection of seven cases of suspected Nipah infections in Kerala and its possible spread is causing concern among the general public.

Though there is no immediate threat to the city, the Health Department is gearing up to meet any exigency.

Travel across the country being made easy with improved air connectivity. There is, however, no cause for panic as the suspected patients were isolated and all precautions have been taken to check the spread of the disease, the officials said.

It may be recalled that 11 persons died in Kerala after they were affected by the Nipah virus in May, 2018. The health officials here do not want take any chances.

“We are planning to open an isolation ward after holding discussions with specialist doctors,” Dr. G. Arjuna, Superintendent of King George Hospital (KGH) said here on Thursday.

The symptoms of Nipah infection, like any other viral infection, are fever, headache, sore throat, vomiting and inflammation of the brain leading to disorientation or mental confusion.

The patients generally die but those who survive can have long-term complications such as birth defects in their children, he said.

Alert sounded

“We have received an alert on the guidelines to be taken to prevent the outbreak of the disease in the district. The Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in rural areas have been alerted as bats are found mostly in villages. There is an general isolation ward at the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH),” District Medical and Health Officer S. Tirupathi Rao told The Hindu .

A large number of bats used to hang from the branches of banyan trees in the Old Central Jail Complex, till a few years ago. Their number has dwindled over the years, following the axing of trees to pave the way for construction of the VUDA Central Park.

Vector-borne infection

Fruit bat (Indian Flying Fox) acts as a vector, and the virus is spread from the bat’s saliva, when it pecks at fruits. Large-scale deforestation and environmentally destructive practices are responsible for the spread of the virus, opine environmental activists.

“The Indian Flying Fox ( Mega chiroptera ) is large in size and feeds only on fruits while the insect bats ( Micro chiroptera ) are small in size and feed on insects and mosquitoes. Bats normally live away from human habitations,” says Murthy Kantimahanti, a conservation biologist at the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society, Visakhapatnam.

Dr. Appa Rao, Head of the Pathology Department in KGH said that Nipah infection was first reported in Malaysia in 1999.

“Nipah virus spreads rapidly when compared to Japanese encephalitis. Nipah infection causes encephalitis and respiratory problems. In a majority of patients, it does not show any symptoms at all,” he said.

The incubation period of the virus ranges from four days to two months.

“We have kits to treat Japanese encephalitis and the Virology Lab of Andhra Medical College (AMC) is equipped to undertake surveillance of the diseases,” he said.

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