The outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus in Kerala’s Kozhikode district has prompted the administration to introduce Covid era-like containment zones in nine panchayats. The authorities are scrambling to identify high-risk contacts after the state reported two deaths from the brain-damaging virus, which causes respiratory distress and encephalitis. Five more patients infected with the Nipah virus are undergoing treatment at the hospitals. This is the fourth outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala since 2018 when the state first reported the disease.
The recent Nipah outbreak in Kerala has generated widespread criticism, highlighting significant shortcomings in the state government’s response to this deadly disease, which carries a mortality rate of approximately 70%. This situation underscores the failure of the CPI(M) government in effectively addressing serious public health challenges.
The first Nipah virus outbreak was recorded in 2018, resulting in the tragic deaths of 17 out of 18 infected persons. This incident triggered panic and alarm throughout the state. The government’s efforts to eradicate the disease in the Calicut district of Kerala, have been woefully inadequate.
In 2019, Kerala put more than 300 people in surveillance after a man was diagnosed with the virus. Regrettably, the state experienced yet another outbreak in 2021, tragically claiming the life of a 12-year-old boy. These recurring incidents cast a shadow on the government’s ability to effectively combat the Nipah virus and protect its citizens.
Despite numerous reappearances of the Nipah virus, the government remains unprepared to implement preventive measures. Annual strengthening of monitoring should have been a priority, yet it has consistently been neglected. The health department has demonstrated a lack of readiness even in the basic task of collecting samples from affected areas. This deficiency can be attributed to a shortage of healthcare workers.
Furthermore, Kerala’s dependence on other states for virology lab services has resulted in delays in obtaining test results. This reliance underscores the urgent need for the state to establish its own virology labs to ensure swifter response times in situations like these.
BJP State President, K Surendran, has strongly criticized the health department for its lack of vigilance, which has led to the resurgence of the Nipah virus in the state. Surendran expressed astonishment that despite having prior knowledge of the potential presence of the Nipah virus in the bat-inhabited region of Janakikaddu, the health department failed to take precautionary measures.
K Surendran further pointed fingers at the state government for not establishing virology labs essential for Nipah virus testing. He emphasized that the guidelines from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) do not mandate test results exclusively from the Pune Lab to confirm the presence of the Nipah virus. It remains unclear why Health Minister Veena George insists on the necessity of Pune Lab test results for confirmation of this deadly virus’s presence.
K Surendran has pointed out that the Virology Institute in Thonnakkal, Thiruvananthapuram, is not yet fully operational, highlighting it as a government failure. The announcement of the Virology Institute dates back to 2018, a period marked by the initial Nipah virus outbreak in the state, which resulted in the tragic loss of seventeen lives.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in Kerala VD Satheeshan on September 16 alleged that the Kerala government has no health data regarding the Nipah outbreak in Kerala. He blamed the state government and Minister Veena George for their failure in preventing Nipah outbreak.
Indian Council of Medical Research Director General Rajeev Bahl informed that the mortality rate among Nipah virus-infected people is very high. Addressing a Press Conference in Delhi, the ICMR DG Rajeev Bahl said that the mortality rate among infected is between 40 per cent to 70 per cent. He also said that they do not know why Nipah cases keep surfacing in Kerala.
Educational institutions in Kozhikode district will remain closed for another week against the backdrop of the Nipah outbreak. The educational institutions will be closed till September 24. The closure order will apply to schools, professional colleges, tuition centres, and other educational institutions in the district. The Education Department has decided to provide online education to students.
But the people of Kerala are in a state of panic. Many places in Kozhikode have been identified as containment zones. The mandatory use of masks and sanitizers is in effect. The pressing question on everyone’s minds is whether Kozhikode will encounter a situation reminiscent of the COVID-19 pandemic.