Mohammed Salih, a 28-year-old architect from Kerala, tragically passed away in the early hours of May 17, 2018. Salih was sent to Kozhikode’s Baby Memorial Hospital after displaying symptoms of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, that startled his family. It was a terrible day that would mark Kerala’s meeting with the deadly Nipah virus.
The Nipah virus outbreak in South India in 2018 was the first of its type, with 17 people being killed and 18 confirmed cases by June 1. This zoonotic disease, which spreads from animals to people, had struck the districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram. The outbreak drew international notice, prompting a joint response from India’s National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organization.
Kerala’s health system, recognized for achieving exceptional outcomes on a shoestring budget, was crucial in limiting the outbreak. The state’s initiative, leadership, and teamwork among multiple health agencies and the private sector resulted in an accomplishment in the face of adversity. Nonetheless, it was not without challenges. In the earliest stages, improvisation was common, and data exchange gaps hampered a thorough knowledge of the infection.
Fast forward to today, when Nipah once again threatens Kerala. A health notice was issued after reports of unnatural deaths caused by fever. Two victims died, and their families were admitted to intensive care facilities. The samples were transferred to the National Institute of Virology in Pune for confirmation.
The Kerala Health Department issued a notice on Monday after the two individuals died in Kozhikode district from unnatural causes. According to the news agency PTI, State Health Minister Veena George convened a high-level meeting to examine the situation, according to a health department statement issued late Monday night.
Today, experts from the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune will arrive in Kerala to establish a mobile laboratory at Kozhikode Medical College. They will conduct testing for the Nipah virus and conduct a bat survey. A team of epidemiologists from Chennai will join the NIV Pune team too. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has also agreed to transport the necessary monoclonal antibodies for treating Nipah patients. The state government announced this as a response to the four confirmed cases of Nipah infection in Kozhikode district.
Seven village panchayats in Kozhikode district of Kerala – Atanchery, Kayakkodi, Kavilumpara, Kuttiyadi, Maruthonkara, Tiruvallur and Villyapalli – have been declared as containment zones.
The Nipah virus can cause a wide range of symptoms that range from mild illness to severe encephalitis. It is spread from fruit bats to animals and humans, and its resurgence in Kerala stresses the importance of being prepared.
As a result, health officials have increased awareness, reinforced infection control methods, and increased surveillance. While lab findings are awaited, precautions are being implemented, including limits on social gatherings in targeted locations.
In the current societal milieu, where the COVID-19 pandemic looms large, Kerala’s experience with Nipah in 2018 and 2021 has been marked by resilience and a commitment to learning from the past. The new identification of Nipah virus antibodies in fruit bat samples contributes to our awareness of the virus’s origin.
Sister Lini’s painful memory, the brave nurse who succumbed to Nipah while caring for patients, remains etched in Kerala’s societal psyche. Her dedication and selflessness serve as a stark example of the resilience she displayed in the face of challenges.
The Malayalam film “Virus“ almost portrayed the intensity of the Nipah outbreak, depicting healthcare personnel’s tireless efforts, community resilience, and will to overcome the disaster. It highlighted the courageous acts carried out by people such as Sister Lini, forever leaving their memories in the minds of Kerala residents.
As Kerala gets ready to combat Nipah once more, its history serves as a model for the rest of the world. Kerala is prepared to protect its people from this unrelenting epidemic with vigilance, knowledge, and a united front. In an era where health crises have become global challenges, Kerala’s resilience and readiness remind us of the importance of collective action and continued learning in the face of emerging threats.
Nipah virus infection has resurfaced in Kozhikode district for the third time in the past five years. Get the latest on the Nipah virus resurgence.