Is Rambutan the likely source of Nipah virus this time?

Nipah virus
Representational image: Shutterstock/Jarun Ontakrai

Kozhikode: Health experts at the Centre suspect Rambutan fruit to be the likely source of the Nipah virus that has claimed one life in Kozhikode, Minister AK Saseendran stated. They have come to this conclusion after a preliminary assessment of the fatal case of a boy reported from Kozhikode on Sunday.

Central health authorities have already made enquiries in this regard with the parents of the dead boy, Hashim, who succumbed to the infection early on Sunday morning. Meanwhile, experts from the National Institute of Virology in Pune are set to arrive in this Kerala town on Monday. 

The boy's mother, Wahida, had disclosed that she had given him a Rambutan fruit recently. 

He was not in the habit of eating fruits picked up the ground, she said.

Cultivation of Rambutan fruit trees, a native of Southeast Asia, commenced in Kerala a couple of decades backs. 

Nipah had claimed seventeen lives in Kerala during its initial outbreak in 2018. Then it was suspected that mangoes bitten by fruit bats harbouring the deadly virus were the causative factor. The disease reappeared next year too.

Nipah is classified as a zoonotic disease, i.e., one that is spread by animals. Bats are often found to spread the Nipah virus. A person gets infected as one eats bat-infected fruit or comes in close contact with an infected person.  

Nipah in India

The human Nipah virus (NiV) infection is a zoonotic disease that was first recognised in a large outbreak of 276 reported cases in Malaysia and Singapore from September 1998 to May 1999.

In India, two outbreaks in humans were reported from West Bengal during 2001 and 2007. In 2018 and 2019, it was confined to Kerala. 

The initial symptoms of Nipah infection are cough, fever headache, body ache and cold. Soon the infected experience breathlessness. The Nipah virus affects the respiratory and nervous system and patients may experience respiratory failure or neurological failure. 

Hashim buried

Meanwhile, Hashim was buried at the cemetery at Kannamprambu following strict protocols. His parents, Wahida and Aboobacker, had to keep away owing to isolation enforced by the health authorities. Both were with Hashim at a private hospital until Sunday night.

Hashim passed away around 4.30 am on Sunday, hours after Nipah was confirmed and his parents were ordered to remain in isolation.

Nipah virus: Medicines available in Kerala, NIV to set up lab in Kozhikode
Kerala Health Minister Veena George after attending a high-level meeting held at Kozhikode over the Nipah virus infection confirmed in Kerala.

Health dept chalks out action plan to contain spread

The Kerala Health Department has chalked out an action plan to contain the spread of Nipah infection which has reappeared in the district after a span of three years.

A review meeting, which was chaired by Health Minister Veena George here on Sunday, decided to trace the source of the infection at the earliest.

As many as 16 committees have been set up to coordinate the Nipah containment measures. 

The area that comes within the three-kilometre radius of the house of the 12-year-old boy who died in the virus attack on Sunday has been notified as a containment zone.

The area has been put under strict vigil. 

Initially, 188 persons were included in the contact list. Of them, 136 are healthcare workers - 100 belonged to the Government Medical College, Kozhikode, and the rest belonged to the private hospital where the boy was last admitted.

On Monday, 63 more on the contact list taking the total to 251.

Of them, 32 who are high-risk cases were shifted to the Kozhikode Medical College.

Six have developed minor symptoms, according to the sources.

The first examination of their tests will be taken on Monday.

The authorities are confident that the virus spread can be fully checked if the members of the contact list are identified fast and put in isolation.

Arrangements at the hospital

The Pay Ward and the ICU in the medical college are being kept ready to face any eventuality. 

A primary treatment unit would be opened in the medical college under the leadership of experts from the National Institute of Virology in Pune.

Since a large number of staff from the Kozhikode Medical College are on the contact list of the dead boy, steps would be taken to appoint more staff to see that the day-to-day functioning of the medical college should not be affected. Those nurses who have got specialised training in Nipah treatment would be posted at the medical college. 

A daily review meeting of the health workers and officials are also planned.       

Sample tests

The swab samples of those who are on the contact list would be tested. Those who are under surveillance would be put to the TrueNat test. The samples of those who were found positive in the test would be sent to the Virology Institute. Within 12 hours, results would be made available.

The review meeting was also attended by PWD and Tourism Minister P A Muhammed Riyas, Ports Minister Ahammed Devarkovil, M K Raghavan MP, P T A Rahim MLA, District Collector N Tej Lohit Reddy and District Medical Officer Dr V Jayasree. 

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