The killing machine
Originating from fruit-bats, Nipah has spread scare in Kerala as the lack of vaccine makes it difficult to contain the virus, elaborates Aditya Aamir
It is rare. It is deadly. It's called the Nipah Virus! The fruit-bat borne virus has already killed 11 in Kerala's Kozhikode and Malappuram districts after the first three deaths in a family were diagnosed with Nipah, the name that spells panic. One of the 11 dead was a nurse named Lini. Her body was cremated without much ado by the government and her home quarantined, cordoned off by the authorities. In the United States, they would have called in the National Guard!
Don't touch fruits and don't get close and friendly with those who have come in contact of people who must have taken a bite or touched a half-eaten fruit thrown aside by an upside-down fruit-bat after a bite. The first family which fell victim started as the wife of the head of a family was taken to a private hospital. Two of her nephews also caught the Nipah and they were taken to a government hospital. In their early twenties, both died. The 50-year-old aunt succumbed to Nipah on Saturday.
Nurse Lini, who cared for one of the two nephews, was the next to go. She was a nurse at the taluk clinic where one of the nephews was taken for care. Nipah sounds so much like 'Nipat' in Hindi, which translates to 'finish', that it scares the living daylights out of the living. The first three victims didn't know what hit them. Their caregivers, too, had no idea till a thorough fuller diagnosis was made. Even so, doctors wouldn't say 'Nipah' till other patients showing similar symptoms – temperature, vomiting, and dizziness – were rolled into the Kozhikode Medical College and the wrongdoings of the virus sunk in.
Lok Sabha MP Mullapally Ramachandran has asked the Centre to intervene. He has flagged Union Health Minister JP Nadda in his letter on the outbreak. But, with BJP reeling from a near-death experience in Karnataka, the Centre seems to have its mind elsewhere. And, PM Modi is in Sochi in Russia with little time to think of rare, virus outbreaks in India. First pictures show nurses with masks and no surgical gloves in hospitals where those hit by the virus are being treated. The state health department is on high alert. The WHO says there is no vaccine for Nipah. That puts Nipah in the league of the Ebola.
And, damn the bats. The fruit-bat is an ugly creature, and hanging upside down like all bats do, it looks as deadly as the Nipah virus it carries to kill. Bats are nocturnal and who knows or sees where they go, which fruit they pick and which they dig their teeth into. Only bats and drunks stay alive to the night after decent hours – the drunk passes out just as the bats take wing.
The first Nipah outbreak was located in Malaysia in 1988, in a village called Sungai Nipah, therefore the name, Nipah. The outbreak in Sungai Nipah was from pigs infected with the virus. In Chandroth, Kozhikode, the woman, and her nephews were spotted taking bites from half-eaten fruits they picked up from a site where the family was building a residential structure.
Those who know Kerala know that the state is full of tree-borne fruit, a bounty for both bird and mammal. And, bats of all sort are mammals! There are jackfruit and pineapple, the mango and banana – red, yellow and rusty-brown – to name a few. The fruit-bat has a fare fit for a King! It's a shame they carry the Nipah in their secretions. Dangerous also is the fact that they can pass on the virus to pigs and other domestic animals.
Blood and other samples of those killed by the virus were sent to the National Virology Institute in Pune. A task force of experts has taken charge of the situation in the state. A single-window system has been put in place. The virus is not airborne. It spreads by contact. It hits the respiratory system and can cause fatal encephalitis. The primary treatment for humans is through intensive support care. The lucky ones pull through. The unfortunate kick the bucket.
(The views are strictly personal)