Electron micrograph scan of the Nipah virus

India’s Kerala Moves to Contain Potential Nipah Virus Outbreak Following Deaths

The southern state of Kerala in India moves to contain a potential Nipah virus outbreak after confirming two deaths in the Kozhikode district. Two individuals infected with the virus have died, one in early September and another on August 30th. Two relatives of one of the deceased have been diagnosed with the virus and are currently hospitalized.

The incident marks the fourth Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala since 2018. The World Health Organization identifies the Nipah virus as a “zoonotic illness,” which means it can transfer from animals, such as pigs and fruit bats, to humans.

While scientists have found that the virus in this region originated from bats, the exact transmission mode to the affected individuals is still uncertain. The virus can spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, contaminated food, or an infected person. Some individuals may not exhibit symptoms upon contracting the virus, while others might experience severe respiratory issues. In extreme cases, the virus can lead to a significant brain condition.

Golden-crowned Flying Fox Acerodon jubatus, Len Worthington, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Nipah virus has previously caused outbreaks in Malaysia and Bangladesh, with certain Asian fruit bats identified as carriers. So far, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for the virus, and care is primarily focused on symptom management.

According to BBC, India’s Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya, announced that a team of specialists has been dispatched to Kerala to assist the state government. Kerala’s Health Minister, Veena George, stated that the present strain of the virus is identical to a previous one detected in Bangladesh.
However, according to an investigation by Reuters published in May, the Kerala strain differs from those that emerged in Bangladesh and Malaysia. How this variance influences the virus’s ability to spread and its fatality rate is yet to be determined.

The Kerala government undertook measures to prevent the outbreak beyond the area, including setting up a mobile testing lab and monitoring contacts of the deceased . The state has also established a control room in Kozhikode and designated seven villages as containment zones. Some schools and offices in the district have been temporarily closed.
Kozhikode first experienced a severe Nipah outbreak in 2018. The outbreak was more lethal than previous spillovers in Asia, resulting in a 90% fatality rate among those infected. A similar outbreak in Malaysia in 1998 killed almost 40% of the patients. Similarly, outbreaks in Bangladesh that began in 2001 had an overall mortality rate of approximately 70%. Scientists who have examined the virus say the reason for the increased deadliness of recent outbreaks is still unknown.
Reuters study suggested that environmental changes in Kerala, such as rapid urbanization and deforestation, might contribute to the emergence of viruses like Nipah, as animals are forced closer to humans.