The state health department on Friday announced a number of steps, including the temporary closure of a district court, to arrest the advance of the Nipah outbreak that has already claimed 17 lives in north Kerala.
It has asked the high court registrar to shut the Kozhikode district court and directed the staffers of a government hospital to proceed on leave with immediate effect. Besides this, the department has advised members of the general public against organising large gatherings or parties for a period of ten days.
The government’s immediate concern arises from three people succumbing to the outbreak in a period of just two days. As many as 17 of the 20 people infected by the Nipah virus are dead while the remaining are undergoing treatment, said a senior health officer. Besides this, 12 others have shown symptoms of Nipah and at least 1,400 who came into contact with some of the deceased are being kept under observation in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts.
State health minister KK Shailaja has even warned of a second outbreak unless preventive measures are taken. “We had indicated at the very outset that there could be a possible second outbreak, and those who came into contact with the infected would be particularly vulnerable. All such people have to be closely watched…” she said.
According to Shailaja, there is a continued need to be vigilant because the incubation period of the virus is anywhere between two weeks and 20 days. A human monoclonal antibody procured from Australia to treat the ailment will reach the state soon, she added.
Although the product – a mix of human and rodent antibodies – is not exactly a cure for Nipah infection, experts believe it could be effective in patients to some extent. Once administered, the rodent part of the antibody binds to the target antigen while the human part makes it less likely to be destroyed by the body’s immune system.
With just three of those infected on the road to recovery, the mortality rate of the outbreak is over 90 per cent.
Among the institutions likely to be closed is the Kozhikode district court, which witnessed its senior superintendent – Madhusoodan – succumbing to the Nipah infection. District collector UV Jose has asked the Kerala high court to direct its closure because many there had come into contact with the deceased.
Besides this, the district administration has asked people to not organise large gatherings, celebrations or festivals for at least two weeks. Some Islamic clerics in the region are also said to have asked believers to refrain from coming to mosques in large numbers for the time being.
Similarly, the health department asked all staffers of the Balussery government hospital to proceed on leave after the death of two Nipah patients last week. The two – identified as Resin and Akhil – had undergone treatment at the institution before being shifted to the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital.
“It is a precautionary measure. Two people who were treated here later died at the medical college hospital. We don’t want to take any chances, and have asked all of them – including doctors – to go on leave with immediate effect,” said Kozhikode district medical officer Dr V Jayasree.
Dr G Arun Kumar, head of the virus research department in Manipal, said the strain of virus detected in Kerala was similar to the Bangladeshi virus. “The Bangladeshi virus is more lethal than the Malaysian strain,” he said, adding that the infection was effectively isolated by the authorities.
The state animal husbandry department, for its part, has asked people to not disturb the habitat of fruit bats – suspected to be the primary source of the virus. “We have noticed people throwing stones at fruit bats. This will only cause more trouble because the bats will transport the virus to unaffected areas,” an official said.
The district administration has also warned of action against those who disturb their habitats.
Meanwhile, all Kerala schools – except those in districts where 16 Nipah deaths were reported – reopened on Friday after a two-month-long summer vacation. Educational institutions in the northern districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram will resume classes only on June 5.