NEW DELHI – Health authorities in India said on Tuesday the deadly Nipah virus has resurfaced with at least one confirmed case in a southern state, prompting strict security measures to check the spread of the contagious pathogen that caused at least 17 deaths last year.
The health minister of the southern state of Kerala, KK Shailaja, said in a press conference that blood sample of a 23-year-old student had tested positive for Nipah virus.
Health centers have informed about four more people with Nipah like symptoms while nearly 100 people who came into contact with the infected student in the last few days were being monitored.
The minister told reporters that the origins of the virus were not known yet but authorities were confident that they could contain it.
She emphasized that a Nipah outbreak in Kerala’s Kozhikode district was successfully contained last year.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan urged the people to maintain calm and said a team of experts had reached Kochi, the district where the case had been reported.
Treatment facilities and isolation wards have been set up in different parts of the state where the first cases of the virus were reported less than a year ago.
“I have assured (the) Kerala Health Minister of all possible support regarding Nipah virus. A central expert team has already reached there (…) There is no need to panic,” Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan tweeted.
According to the World Health Organization, 18 confirmed cases and 17 deaths were reported in June 2018 in the affected districts of Kozhikode and Mallapuram in the first-ever outbreak of Nipah in India.
Nipah, similar to Hendra, is a zoonotic virus first discovered in Malaysia in 1998 and is primarily transmitted through fruit bats, according to the WHO The initial symptoms of the disease include high fever, headache and changes in behavior while, at a later stage, the disease can cause encephalitis.
The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as saliva and blood, and since there are no vaccines against the virus, doctors can only treat the symptoms, resulting in a fatality rate higher than 70 percent.
The WHO has included Nipah – along with Ebola and Zika – on its list of diseases to prioritize for research because of its epidemic potential.