Nipah has exposed healthcare frailties

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 29, 2018 Indian bats cling onto the branches of a banyan tree on the campus of Gujarat College in Ahmedabad. A virus mainly carried by fruit bats which has spread across Asian nations has killed at least three peo

A new scourge in the form of the Nipah virus, which has so far claimed 10 lives in the last few days in Kozhikode and Mallapuram in Kerala, has created a public health scare. A panic situation prevails in the villages from where the deaths were reported and in neighbouring areas because there is no effective antidote for the affliction. The mortality rate is as high as 70%. Those dead include a nurse who had attended to two persons admitted to hospital with symptoms of the infection. Some others are being treated in isolation wards. The virus is being compared to the Ebola virus though it is not as deadly as that. It has a global footprint as it was first noticed in Malaysia two decades ago and was later found in Bangladesh and some border districts in West Bengal. A number of deaths were reported from these places. 

As in Malaysia it is suspected that the virus was transmitted to humans by bats. It is believed that two persons who died in Kozhikode had eaten fruits contaminated by bats, and others were infected through contact with them. Pigs have also been known to be carriers of the virus. Since full information about the virus is not available, there is a view that other birds and animals that come into contact with infected bats can also be carriers of the virus. There is no defence against the infection, except prevention. So, people living in places where the affliction has been found and in nearby areas have been advised to take preventive measures like washing fruits before eating them, washing hands and avoiding physical contact with infected persons. Quarantining of the infected is essential because the virus easily spreads from person to person. 

A central team of experts, including doctors and virologists, has reached Kozhikode to study the situation. The contagion helped to expose, as in many earlier cases, the inadequacy of the country’s healthcare and research systems and facilities and the difficulties in dealing with a situation like this. Even in Kerala, where healthcare standards and awareness levels are high, it took days to identify the virus. Virological and epidemiological research has not developed much in the country and even virology labs are scarce. Medical research should receive high priority in a country where people are prone to many known and unknown diseases and afflictions. Governments and health authorities should take care to increase public awareness about diseases, their causes and remedies and how to take preventive measures against them. A national vigil is needed in the case of viruses like Nipah, which move across countries and states. 

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