Indian authorities are taking swift action to contain a deadly Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala.

A state in southern India is responding to an outbreak of the Nipah virus, which has claimed two lives and prompted school closures and extensive testing to prevent further spread. Kerala’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, confirmed the virus’s presence in the state’s Kozhikode district and urged residents to follow health department guidelines. This marks Kerala’s fourth Nipah outbreak since 2018.

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Nipah is a zoonotic virus that can be transmitted from animals to humans or through contaminated food and direct human-to-human contact. Symptoms often begin with a headache and drowsiness but can rapidly progress to a coma within days, leading to acute respiratory syndrome and potentially fatal encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. There is currently no vaccine, and treatment primarily involves supportive care.

In Kerala, over 700 people have been identified as close contacts and are undergoing testing, with 77 considered “high risk” and advised to self-isolate and monitor their health. Authorities in Kozhikode have closed some schools, and seven villages have been declared “containment zones.”

Kerala previously faced a Nipah outbreak in 2018, resulting in 17 deaths and widespread panic. Rigorous contact tracing efforts were undertaken, including testing over 230 people. In 2021, another outbreak occurred, claiming the life of a 12-year-old boy.

The Nipah virus was initially identified during a 1998-1999 outbreak in Malaysia, where it infected nearly 300 people, causing over 100 deaths and the euthanization of more than a million pigs to halt its spread. The virus’s name is derived from the Malaysian village of Kampung Sungai Nipah, where pig farmers contracted it. Subsequent outbreaks occurred in India and Bangladesh, with over 600 reported human cases between 1998 and 2015. Human-to-human transmission has also been documented, especially among healthcare workers caring for infected patients. The Nipah virus is considered an epidemic threat by the World Health Organization, necessitating urgent research and development.

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