India can’t afford to let its guard down over Nipah. The virus’ 70 per cent mortality rate is a warning sign, as much as it being one of eight deadly diseases that could trigger a global epidemic like Ebola and Zika. To dismiss it as a local phenomenon, as officials with an eye on Kerala tourism termed it, is dangerous. Four persons from one family at the suspected epicentre of a well in Kozhikode district have perished, showing the dangers of close contact with those affected. The tragic death of a nurse reiterates the point that extreme precautions must be taken to arrest the spread of this virus outbreak, which might also have travelled to Mangalore in Karnataka, where blood test results are awaited on two patients. There is no vaccination for Nipah, which induces flu-like symptoms possibly leading to agonising encephalitis and coma.
It’s believed habitat loss of bats could be contributing to this emerging zoonosis, whose natural host is the fruit bat. While the speed of diagnosis in Kerala has been excellent in pinpointing the problem after the first death was reported on May 5, what must be done to contain the outbreak is a daunting challenge for India’s healthcare system. It’s heartening to know that people can recover from acute encephalitis, even if they are at risk later from neurological damage. Stricter quarantine measures and travel advisories to avoid areas around the epicentre are urgently needed. There’s no question of this being scare-mongering by vested interests as global pharma has no vaccine or cure. Big pharma could help by investing in research to combat WHO’s list of priority diseases.