WHO alert, Nipah virus: 2 deaths in India

There were six cases in total. Containment measures activated in 8 villages of the affected district, contacts quarantined and subjected to tests

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued an alert for a Nipah virus outbreak in India. From 12 to 15 September 2023, reports the UN health agency, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the Government of India recorded 6 laboratory confirmed cases, of which two died, in Kozhikode district, Kerala. The source of contagion of the first case is unknown, the others were family (2) and hospital contacts of the first patient. The people found infected are all males aged between 9 and 45.

Patient ‘one’ presented to hospital with pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome (Ards) and was admitted in late August. He died a few days after hospitalization. As of September 27, the WHO reports, the four patients under treatment remain clinically stable. 1,288 contacts of the confirmed cases have been traced, including high-risk contacts and healthcare workers, who are under quarantine and monitoring for 21 days. Since September 12, 387 samples have been tested, of which 6 cases tested positive for Nipah virus infection and all the remaining negative. No new cases have been detected since September 15. “This is the sixth Nipah virus epidemic in India since 2001”, notes the WHO.

It is a zoonotic disease, and the virus is transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals, such as bats and pigs. But direct contact with an infected person can also lead to transmission, although this route is less common, the WHO specifies. People affected by Nipah virus can experience serious symptoms, including acute respiratory infections and fatal encephalitis. The only way to reduce or prevent contagion is to take preventive measures to protect oneself, explains the UN agency, while case management should focus on providing patients with supportive therapies and intensive support for serious respiratory and neurological complications.

Since the first case was intercepted, India has put in place a system of coordination of response to the epidemic with the aim of containing cases and raised the level of surveillance and contact tracing, also raising awareness among the population of the risks.

The government’s response measures also included declaring containment zones in 9 villages in Kozhikode district with restrictions on movement, social distancing and mandatory use of masks in public spaces. The government has restricted major public events in Kozhikode district until October 1, 2023. Notices have finally been issued to neighboring districts and states for increased surveillance.

According to India’s National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, the virus found in Kerala has been identified as Indian genotype or genotype I and is similar to the Nipah virus strain found in Bangladesh. Mortality rates in epidemics in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Singapore typically range from 40% to 100%. There are currently no effective therapies or vaccines available for this disease.