Nipah virus strikes again, kills boy in Indian state already on high alert for COVID-19

A new Nipah outbreak in Kerala, and how lessons from Covid-19 might help in its containment

The southern Indian state of Kerala is quickly ramping up efforts to stop a potential outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus, even as the state continues to battle the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country.

Kerala is on high alert after a 12-year-old boy died of the rare virus on Sunday, spurring health officials to start contact-tracing and isolating hundreds of people who came into contact with the boy, who died at a hospital in the coastal city of Kozhikode.

On Tuesday, the state health minister told reporters that the samples of eight primary contacts have come back negative.

“That these eight immediate contacts tested negative is a great relief,” Veena George said.

The teenager’s death is the first Nipah death to be reported from Kozhikode three years after a nurse, Lini, looking after Nipah patients had died. A heartbreaking letter she had written to her family during her final hours had caught the nation’s attention in 2018.

What is Nipah Virus (NiV)?

Nipah virus (NiV) is a ‘zoonotic’ virus, that is, it is transmitted to human beings from animals. The virus can also be transmitted through contaminated food, or directly between people.

The pathogen that causes NiV encephalitis is an RNA virus of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus, and which is closely related to the Hendra virus (HeV), which was isolated in Australia in 1994.

WHO believes that the infection can transmit to humans if they come in contact with secretions of an infected animal.

Currently, a team from the National Centre for Disease Control has identified 188 people who had come in contact with the teenager in Kozhikode before he died. While 20 of them have been marked in the high-risk category, two (both healthcare workers) have NiV symptoms.


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