KOZHIKODE: How the 23-year old Muhammad Sabith of Soopikada in Perambra contracted the Nipah virus (NiV) from fruit bats? That’s a troubling question for many including epidemiologists. Sabith is the index case of NiV who died on May 5, a fortnight before they identified the dreaded virus. It is certain that NiV had spread to the index case from fruit bats as the mammal alone is its natural reservoir host. A major hypothesis was that Sabith would have consumed bat-bitten mango or any other fruit.
“If that were the case, there would have been more index cases as it is the common behaviour of local people to remove the bitten part and eat the mango,” observes Manipal Centre for Virus Research (MCVR) head Dr G. Arun Kumar. MCVR team had found the residues of fruits from the spot bitten by bats. Many of the friends and neighbours of Sabith too agree that they also used to consume guava or mango got from the courtyard in the same manner. It is at this juncture, the pet-loving nature of Sabith comes into the focus.
“Sabith had rabbits at his house. Many say he had an affinity towards animals. He might have come across a bat or its little one, and he would have petted it,” Dr Kumar said. May to December is the breeding period of bats. But the virologist adds that exposure through bitten fruits is not unlikely. The Facebook page of Sabith shows the pictures of monitor lizard, cat, duck and butterfly, indicating his pets loving character.
There was a picture of a type of monitor lizard lying close to a cat. “Besides rabbits, the duck was also at Sabith’s house. We also don’t think the virus had infected from fruits,” says Changaroth grama panchayat president K.K. Ayisha. But there are least chances to confirm it as Sabith is no more, no sample collected of his and none to vouch for.