Having learned valuable lessons during the outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts last year, the health department in Kerala has swung into action after a male student in Ernakulam district was admitted to a private hospital last week with similar symptoms of the infection.
The health ministry, headed by KK Shailaja which worked overtime during the crisis last year, activated safety protocols at the hospital in Ernakulam and has sent a team of top medical officials to the district. The minister herself, after holding talks with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Thiruvananthapuram, is on her way to Kochi.
“In the backdrop of the learning we got last year, we are always aware. Even before this case of the patient, when we had patients with similar symptoms, we have sent their specimens for confirmation from labs…we have initiated all arrangements for isolation wards at the Ernakulam Medical College in case a confirmation for Nipah is received. We have contacted all medical facilities on the periphery,” the health minister told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
The virus infection, that can be transmitted to humans from animals (especially fruit bats) claimed 17 lives in the state last year. First recognised in 1998-99 among pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore, the virus has a high case fatality rate. Initial symptoms include fever, vomiting, sore throat, headaches and muscle pain. There are no known drugs or vaccines available and supportive care is the only form of treatment.
The patient admitted this time is a resident of Paravoor in Ernakulam district and is a student of an institute near Thodupuzha in Idukki district. He reportedly also attended a camp in Thrissur district. Specimens of the patient were sent for confirmation of the virus infection to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), National Institute of Virology, Pune and Virus Research Diagnostic Laboratory in Bengaluru.
Thrissur district medical officer KJ Reena told reporters that the patient had fever when he arrived to attend a camp in Thrissur. “We can say almost 90% that the source of the virus is not Thrissur. It may have been from the place where he was studying. The incubation period of the virus is 7-14 days and he already had fever-like symptoms the day he arrived in Thrissur. We are monitoring all the students who may have been in contact with him in that period,” she said.
While there is no need to panic, the health minister advised all those with prolonged cough or encephalitis-like symptoms to get diagnosed immediately.