KOZHIKODE: Amid growing concerns over a resurgence of the Nipah virus (NiV) in Kerala, India, with at least two recent fatalities, it has been confirmed that the virus strain responsible is the Bangladesh variant, known for its human-to-human transmission and high mortality rate, albeit with lower infectivity.
Former Health Minister and esteemed CPI(M) MLA, K K Shailaja, has come forward with an update to allay fears within the state. She asserted that the current Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode is not as menacing as the 2018 episode. Shailaja, who garnered acclaim for her effective containment of the Nipah infection in 2018, stressed that Kerala has established a robust protocol and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to combat the infection and thwart its spread. At that time, she was serving as the Health Minister in the previous LDF government, which grappled with the inaugural Nipah outbreak in the region.
"In 2018, the virus was novel to us, and we lacked prior experience in grappling with such an infection. However, we now possess a comprehensive framework to manage it effectively," Shailaja affirmed.
She went on to mention that Nipah testing facilities have been set up within the state. Nevertheless, the formal declaration of a Nipah virus infection can solely be made by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune. Shailaja emphasized, "We have the infrastructure in place. We tested it during the initial outbreak in 2018 in Kozhikode. However, the official declaration rests with NIV, Pune," stated the seasoned CPI(M) MLA.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, the state government secured special permission from the central government to authorize COVID test results from the virology lab at Alappuzha. Shailaja recalled, "When the COVID spread reached its zenith, we obtained clearance to conduct tests at the Medical College labs and to release results. In the case of Nipah, we can only release results if we receive specific authorization from the Central Government," she added.
What Is the Nipah Virus, and What Are Its Symptoms?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Nipah virus, transmitted by fruit bats, poses a potential threat to both humans and animals, carrying the risk of fatality. The virus was initially identified in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers and individuals in close proximity to these animals in Malaysia and Singapore. Human transmission of this virus can also occur through direct contact with infected individuals, particularly via exposure to bodily fluids. Additionally, consumption of raw date palm sap, contaminated by bat urine or saliva, has been identified as a potential transmission route.