India in terror of incurable, brain-frying 'bat virus'
Death toll leaps to 11 as outbreak spurs a rush to hospitals
A rare virus spread by fruit bats, which can cause flu-like symptoms and brain damage, has killed 11 people in southern India, health officials have said, with at least nine more being treated.
Infectious disease outbreaks can be a challenge in India, the world’s second-most populous country, where infection control and surveillance systems are weak, leading to hundreds of deaths annually from diseases such as mosquito-borne dengue.
There is no vaccine for the Nipah virus, which is spread through body fluids and can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says. The usual treatment is supportive care.
The first death in the outbreak in Kerala occurred on Friday, the state’s health minister, KK Shailaja, said. “This is a new situation for us. We have no prior experience in dealing with the Nipah virus. We are hopeful we can put a stop to the outbreak.”Of 18 people screened for the virus, 12 proved positive, Shailaja said, adding that 11 of the sufferers had died and the other two were being closely monitored.The Indian government dispatched a team of officials from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to investigate the outbreak, it said.
“Since all the contacts are under observation and steps to avoid exposure through animal vectors have been taken, there is no reason for people to panic,” it added.The WHO is in contact with government officials in the affected areas, Henk Bekedam, its India representative, said.Health experts stressed the need for early detection and infection control to arrest the spread of the virus.“It will not spread like wildfire because it is not airborne, but it can be risky if they don’t follow proper infection control procedures,” said Dr D Himanshu of King George’s Medical University in the northern city of Lucknow.While the cause of the outbreak is still being investigated, visiting national health officials tied the initial deaths to “many bats” in a well in Kerala from which the victims drew water, the government said.Samples from those bats were among the 60 sent to laboratories to be screened for the virus, it added.
The cases provoked concern among residents, a local government official said.“A large number of people affected by fever, and even minor ailments, are swarming to hospitals, fearing they have contracted the disease,” said UV Jose.
Health officials in Kerala, which attracts many tourists, plan to issue a travel advisory soon, tourism official P Bala Kiran said.
The Nipah virus was first detected in Malaysia in 1998, and India has suffered two outbreaks in the past decade, killing 50 people, according to the WHO.