Millennium Post

Nipah turns Kozhikode upside down

Aditya Aamir writes about the frantic moves to deal with ‘second outbreak’ of Nipah virus

Nipah turns Kozhikode upside down

In Nipah-spooked Kozhikode and Malappuram districts of Kerala, the state has asked for desperate measures to handle an expected second wave of infections. Already 17 of the 20 'Nipah infected', who were hospitalised, are dead. That is a kill-rate of over 89 per cent, much more than what heaven can accommodate in such quick-time. No 'Maafi Mushkil' or 'Khuda Hafiz'. Not even a 'Kannam Cheta', see you brother! Just a quick 'Al Vidaa' in the head while on the deathbed. The Nipah-dead are being incinerated to ash no sooner than they depart.

Pictures of 'Nipah bodies' carted off by men in all-white protective gear are on the front pages of newspapers. Three and four column-wide photographs. Sad to look at. Sanitised to the eye. But immersed in Nipah. What's done to the 'space-suits' after the body is ash is not known. But the protective gear is the replaceable-irreplaceable for healthcare professionals of the two Kerala districts these days of Nipah.

The consensus is that the state government has done remarkably well in tackling the outbreak. The virus is spread by physical contact. And cloth is a good conduit. To burn the clothes – vests and lungi, bed sheets and blankets – the infected wear/come in contact with along with the virus is one quick-sure way to arrest its spread. Also, state health authorities have revised their Nipah outlook post-17 deaths. No one in government wants to risk a preventable risk. So, the talk of a "second Nipah outbreak" and some urgent steps to be on the safe side.

One of them is to order the closure of the Kozhikode district court. A senior court employee gave his life to Nipah a week ago. Other court employees could be at risk. Doctors and other employees of a government hospital in Balluserry, Kozhikode, have also been told to proceed on leave and remain confined to homes, not dilly-dally in the streets or go shopping. Lining up at "beverages" is also a strict no-no. Who knows who touched the wineglass and the "touching (pickle)" that bottoms-up Napoleon and Old Monk?

The fear is that employees of the Kozhikode district court might have come in contact with the Nipah-killed senior superintendent of the court going by the name of Madhusoodan! So, the caution and the precaution. The doctors and nurses and ward-boys of the Balluserry hospital, too, because two of the last three Nipah-dead were treated at this hospital before being moved to the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital, where they passed away.

Suspected to have come in contact with infected people have been told to remain confined at home till the Nipah virus runs through its incubation phase – around 20 days max. Usually, such "holidays" would be welcomed by employees and their families. But these are unusual times and "outbreak" doesn't sound good or gives the thrill of a "holiday-break".

Even the most conservative of numbers places around 1,400 people in the category of "risk" with some of them quarantined for showing symptoms similar to that of Nipah. A soldier of the Indian Army, who came home on leave, left after a month's furlough but died of Nipah in Kolkata. He is said to have visited a friend admitted in the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital. His family and friends are among those living in fear and among the feared after his death.

A government decision to ground court and hospital staffers might turn the entire neighbourhoods into circles of suspicion. Penambra, from where 'patient zero' hailed, is today a deserted hamlet. The entire neighbourhood fled the locality after four members of patient zero's family were wiped out by Nipah. One whiff of a second wave of infections and deaths and entire localities will bolt. The sins of bats it seems have come down on man and woman and there is no escaping Nipah if people don't take care. The fruit-bats are large hombres, with a wingspan of nearly five feet. They are being hunted now to trace the origins of the outbreak.

The state government has also asked the people of Kozhikode and Malappuram districts not to congregate in large numbers. Political rallies and social and cultural gatherings are a big no-no. So are parties and birthday bashes. Schools in Kozhikode are right now closed for the annual break. But they are slated to open on June 5 and a decision was to be made depending on Nipah.

And depending on Nipah a lot about life could go awry. Most of the disruption one can only visualise. Contact sport like football will take a hit. Nipah spreads by physical touch. So the bed might see stranger-bedfellows, those refusing to cling, clasp or hug! That's because partners will not trust which one of them came in contact with whom during the course of a day and night. Young lovers will not hold hands, brush skin. And the so-called 'love jihad' might well be Gone With the Wind!

In offices, too, there will be Nipah fear at board meetings. And on the workshop floor. The good news is that Kerala, with its disruptive hartal-culture, has very few factories to prepare Nipah-culture. That being said, there are government offices in plenty and sarkari files will get held up at this and that table because, again, who knows which file was touched by whom!

Working up the fear-factor, the 'Chanta' or the market-place, where tapioca, coconut and green vegetables vie for attention and the rupee, will see fewer footfalls. As will the fish-market and mutton-and-beef shops. Poultry, too, will be suspect though the broiler does not bat. And who knows which fruit the bat kissed? So apples will dry and oranges will shrink. The banana will no longer be plain plantain ripened to take energy from.

All in all, life in Nipah-land will take a hit and go on strike – hartal! But not the sort that the Malayalee is so used to live by, come rain or sun. A human monoclonal antibody from Australia – a mix of human and rodent antibodies – is expected to reach Kerala soon. It is not exactly a cure for Nipah. It's an upside-down blind as a bat puzzle. Maybe it will be a harbinger of good news or it will be only spice to add to the sad story.

Till that little thing is proven, one way or the other, wash the hands and take more showers. Who knows the early onset of the monsoon in Kerala this year is God's own way to convey that He's there to help the arrogant of God's Own Country out of his right royal fix? More showers!

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Aditya Aamir

Aditya Aamir

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