The health department in Kerala is coordinating contingency measures following five deaths in Kozhikode district caused by what is reported as a “rare virus”.
Late on Sunday night, television channels reported a “confirmation” that two of the deaths were caused by Nipah Virus (NiV).
Siblings Salih (26) and Sabid (23) and their paternal aunt Mariam (50), residents of Changaroth near Perambra in the district, had died of suspected viral encephalitis between May 5 and 18.
On Sunday, two more people — Ismail and Velayudhan — were reported dead from other parts of the district.
Six people are undergoing medical treatment and about 25 people are under observation in the district.
Health Minister K K Shailaja said there was no cause for panic and that facilities and services were being added to hospitals in the region.
Moosa (62) — father of Salih and Sabid — and Atifa (19), Salih’s fiancée, are undergoing treatment.
A nurse employed at a local hospital where the siblings underwent initial treatment and a relative who attended their funerals are also under treatment.
The health department has opened an isolation ward at the Kozhikode Government Medical College Hospital.
“Based on the results of tests conducted in Manipal, a rare virus appears to have caused the deaths. We are now awaiting the results of tests done on the samples sent to Pune (National Institute of Virology),” Shailaja told reporters.
The minister, late on Saturday, held a meeting with officials and experts in the wake of unsubstantiated reports being shared on social media that spread panic over the deaths.
Messages have been doing the rounds on social media, stating that the deceased might have been infected by the Nipah Virus (NiV).
A team of experts from the Manipal Centre for Virus Research is camping in Perambra. The state government has also formed task forces and opened control rooms. The Indian Medical Association has constituted a team of experts to study the deaths and coordinate treatment and preventive measures.
The natural host of NiV are fruit bats.
First identified during an outbreak in Malaysia in 1998, it infected humans in Bangladesh, in 2004, following the consumption of date palm sap contaminated by infected fruit bats.
“NiV infection in humans has a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis,” a World Health Organisation note on the virus says.