Nipah virus probe mission zeroes in on rambutan, fruit bats

Nipah prevention steps strengthened; eight people test negative

Rambutan, an edible tropical fruit which had found much acceptance in Kerala’s home gardens since the past few years, is suddenly at the centre of the state health department’s investigations. The health department has zeroed in on the fruit and the fruit bats that thronged a garden where rambutan was cultivated, after the death of a 12-year-old boy in Chathamangalam, in Kozhikode district of Kerala due to the Nipah virus.

A health department team which was entrusted with ascertaining the reason for the return of the Nipah virus in Kerala has suggested that the virus might have been transmitted to the boy after he ate the fruit that was bitten by the bats.

A bat colony was also found in the rambutan garden close to a residence where the kid’s relatives lived. According to Kerala’s Health Minister Veena George, the boy who passed away had eaten the rambutan fruit when he visited the relative’s place. The findings point to the possibility that bats in the area might be the carriers of the virus.

However, the scare of spread of the virus has eased a bit after eight others who had come in contact with the boy tested negative for the virus. The tests were conducted at the National Virology Institute, Pune. The Kerala health department has also collected samples from at least nine fruit bats in the area.

Nipah lab set up in coordination with NIV Pune

An emergency Nipah lab set up at the Kozhikode Medical College has helped in virus detection and prevention measures, the minister added. The lab set up with the National Virology Institute, Pune, has personnel from the Alappuzha Medical College also, apart from Kozhikode Medical College and NIV. The people around have been advised to exercise utmost caution by resorting to self-imposed quarantine and other prevention measures.

The scare has come about as an additional hurdle at a time when the state is fighting the coronavirus spread. The state government, however, has taken proactive measures in containing the virus scare by swinging into action on an emergency basis. The Nipah lab at the Medical College in Kozhikode has been working round-the-clock to test and detect the presence of the virus among the vulnerable groups and set in motion preventive steps. The negative results of the eight ids has brought much relief for the time being.

Efforts to combat Nipah threat get a boost

Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Health has mooted a five-point strategy for the Kerala government in its efforts to thwart the virus spread. Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan has urged Kerala Chief Secretary V P Joy to ensure that the hospital-based and community-based surveillances are strengthened.

In a communication to the Chief Secretary, the Union Health Secretary pointed out that “awareness needs to be created among the field formations for early detections of cases of Acute Encephalitis syndrome/respiratory distress and risk communicated to the public”.

Directing the district authorities to work towards identifying primary and secondary contacts, Bhushan wrote that all high-risk contacts may be moved to quarantine and observed for symptoms. He has also urged the state to earmark an adequate number of single rooms and ICUs as standby at the Government Medical College in Kozhikode. Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan also wanted the state government to establish a control room for daily reporting of cases. He called for coordination with the animal health and wildlife departments and other field officers so as to collect samples from fruit bats for virological studies.

The Kerala government has already taken all precautionary measures in a bid to ensure that the number of virus-affected do not escalate any further.

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