Nipah Virus Outbreak: Zoonosis Claims 10 Lives In India

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A rare virus known as Nipah, or NiV infection,has emerged in India over the weekend, already killing 10 people in the southern state of Kerala, NPR reports.

The Nipah outbreak has been traced back to a family in the city of Kozhikode, with the first fatality being confirmed on May 19, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced yesterday in a Twitter update on the situation.

According to CNN, three of the family members have succumbed to NiV infection, while a fourth is now on life support. Local authorities believe the Nipah virus, which spreads to humans through contact with animals, originated from a group of infected fruit bats that were found dead in the family’s well, notes NDTV.

From the Kozhikode epicenter, where eight of the casualties were recorded, Nipah spread to the neighboring Malappuram district, while residents from Sindhu and Sijitha were exposed to the virus after a visit to the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital, states the news outlet.

In a statement made today for CNN, Rajeev Sadanandan, additional chief secretary for the Department of Health and Family Welfare in Kerala, said that nine patients are being kept under strict medical surveillance and are receiving supportive care after testing positive for NiV infection. Two of these patients are reportedly in critical condition.

Additionally, some 94 people are being “quarantined inside their homes,” NDTV reports, noting that all the people who became infected with NiV have had some form of contact with the Kozhikode family.

“Though the virus has been reported only in Kozhikode, a statewide alert has been given to remain vigilant. A 24-hour control room has been opened to monitor the situation,” Vijayan stated in a comment to yesterday’s Twitter post.

No new cases have been reported in the last 24 hours, states NDTV.

Nipah is currently incurable and has no vaccine to protect people from catching the virus. First identified in 1998 during an outbreak in Malaysia that infected almost 300 people and claimed more than 100 lives, Nipah is fatal in 40 to 70 percent of cases.

NiV infection usually begins with mild symptoms, such as “fever and headache, followed by drowsiness, disorientation and mental confusion,” and can escalate to a coma within one or two days, underlines a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Nipah virus can also cause fatal encephalitis, in which the brain becomes inflamed, and is associated with acute respiratory syndrome in the early stages of the infection, notes the CDC.

Not much is known about this newly-emerging virus, which was discovered as a zoonosis only in the past two decades, notes ScienceAlert. According to a 2009 study on Nipah’s transmission from human to human, the infection is likely spread through contact with the saliva of infected individuals.

Kerala Nurse Loses Her Life Amid Nipah Outbreak

Among the 10 deaths that resulted from the current Nipah outbreak was 31-year-old nurse Lini Puthussery, who became infected with NiV after treating patients that were brought to a Kerala hospital.

The mother-of-two was immediately quarantined and, being unable to see her family on her deathbed, she left a heartbreaking goodbye note to her husband.

“Saji Chetta, I am almost on my way. I don’t think I will be able to see you. Sorry. Take care of our children properly. Our innocent child, take him to the gulf. They shouldn’t be alone like our father. Lots of love…” reads Puthussery’s moving note, which has been widely circulated on social media.

In a tweet sent out earlier today, Vijayan has offered his condolences to the nurse’s family, saying that her “selfless service will be remembered.”

According to NDTV, Puthussery was cremated yesterday in order to contain the NiV infection.

Dr. Deepu Sebin, chief executive of the DailyRounds network of physicians, also tweeted about Puthussery’s death, conveying his respect for the departed nurse.

“Nurse Lini died in our battle against the Nipah virus. She died trying to save patients infected by it. She was just 31 and was a mother of two little kids. If she is not a martyr, I don’t know who is,” Sebin said in a statement.