Authorities in India are racing to stamp out an outbreak of the rare and deadly Nipah virus after a 12-year-old boy died from it in the coronavirus-stricken state of Kerala.
The boy was admitted to a hospital with a fever last week, officials in the southeastern city of Kozhikode said. He died early Sunday after testing positive for the Nipah virus — a development that has put health authorities on high alert.
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Nipah virus affects the brain and respiratory system and kills 40-75 per cent of the people that it infects, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Patients typically experience coughing, headaches and fever within a few days to several weeks after infection. These symptoms are often followed by encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can prove fatal.
The virus typically spreads to humans from animals, is not related to COVID-19 and has killed roughly 260 people in southeast Asia since it was first detected in 1999.
Health authorities are now monitoring 188 people who had contact with the boy before his death, and they’ve locked down a 3.2-kilometre radius around his family home to ensure the virus doesn’t spread any further.
They’ve also quarantined several of his close contacts, including two healthcare workers who appear to be showing symptoms of infection. Eight of the boy’s close contacts have since tested negative for the virus, Kerala Health Minister Veena George said Tuesday.
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“That these eight immediate contacts tested negative is a great relief,” George said.
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It’s the first documented case of Nipah in Kerala since 2018, when 18 people were infected and all but one of them died. That outbreak was eventually traced back to a dead fruit bat in a family’s well.
Fruit bats are a natural reservoir for the virus, but pigs, cats, dogs, sheep and goats can serve as a vector to spread it to humans.
Humans can get the virus through direct contact with an infected animal or through consumption of tainted food, the WHO says. There are also reported cases of human-to-human infection.
There are no vaccines for the disease or drugs to treat it.
The WHO has identified Nipah as a research priority due to its severity.
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George said that more samples will be tested on Tuesday and that a total of 48 contacts, including the eight who have tested negative, are being monitored at a hospital.
Contact tracing teams have also been sent to Kozhikode to conduct door-to-door surveillance and to identify secondary contacts.
The potential outbreak comes at a moment when Kerala has been hobbled by COVID-19. The state reported nearly 20,000 new infections on Monday, or more than 60 per cent of India’s overall daily total.
— With files from The Associated Press
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