One more sample, suspected to be Nipah-infected, has been found to be negative for the virus by the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, which has set up its field laboratory at Kochi. The Maharashtra government has, meanwhile, sent instructions to veterinary officers and doctors, asking them to remain alert and keep a watch for unusual mortality among pigs, which are also a carrier of the disease.
Additional Commissioner of Animal Husbandry Department, Dr D D Parkale, has issued instructions to field staff, regional and deputy commissioners and other personnel to remain vigilant. The protocol followed after the Nipah outbreak in Kerala last year is being put in place again, said Dr V V Limaye, joint commissioner of animal husbandry department, disease investigation section.
“Our concern is that pigs are carriers of this disease and it is crucial to immediately quarantine the affected ones, if any. We have instructed mainly veterinary doctors to remain vigilant if they find unusual mortality or sickness among the pigs as this virus is highly contagious in them. They… develop feverish illness and laboured breathing. It is also called barking pig syndrome, when they have an unusual barking cough, and in such cases Nipah should be suspected,” said Limaye.
He said last year, the department had put together rapid response teams to tackle avian influenza and if the need arises, these teams could also be pressed into action to fight against Nipah.
State Surveillance Officer Dr Pradip Awate said as Nipah virus outbreaks have involved pigs and fruit bats, setting up an animal health/wildlife surveillance system and using a ‘One Health’ approach to detect cases of infection is also essential in providing early warning for veterinary and public health authorities.
Primary measures like these are being taken, while state-level and district-level prevention and control committees are being set up, said Awate. “We identify areas of coordination and share data, along with immediate field action,” he said.
Immediate response by ICMR scientists to tackle suspected Nipah cases
At the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), scientists from different institutes like Pune’s National Institute of Virology, National AIDS Research Institute and National Institute of Epidemiology were pooled together as part of a central team that immediately rushed to Kerala.
So far, only a 23-year-old youth has tested positive for the virus, but ICMR wasted no time in getting the NIV scientists to set up a field laboratory at the microbiology department of the Government Medical College at Kochi. At least 200 staff has been trained on how to handle the samples while molecular and serological test kits have been provided.
Dr Balram Bhargava, the director-general of ICMR, told The Indian Express that it has been a concerted response by the Centre and public health department to respond to the Nipah virus infection. “So far, only one case is positive but all our rapid response teams are well-coordinated,” he said.