Kozhikode: Three people of a family have died in Kerala's coastal city Kozhikode over the last two weeks, reportedly due to a rare virus known as 'Nipah'. Deaths due to the dangerous virus has put the state health department on high alert. State Health Minister KK Shylaja said on Sunday that the nature of the virus was yet to be ascertained.
"The kind of virus that caused the disease has not been ascertained. Blood and other samples of the deceased have been sent to the National Virology Institute in Pune. The results will be made available in a few days", she told reporters after chairing a meet of top health department officials.
A district level special task force, headed by Kozhikode district collector, UV Jose has been formed to investigate the deaths due to this rare virus, official sources said.
The Director of Health service in Kerala, Dr RL Sarita, took the decision to form the task force after the meeting with top health department officials. "A single window system has been put in place to monitor emergency treatment to meet any eventuality," they said.
Those who died due to the 'Nipah' virus include a 50-year-old woman and her male relatives, aged 23 and 25. While the two male relatives died on May 5 and May 18 respectively, the woman died at a private hospital in the district on Saturday.
Nipah virus infection in humans has a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Nipah Virus or NiV is also capable of causing disease in pigs and other domestic animals. There is no vaccine for either humans or animals at the moment. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care, the WHO says on its website.
Dr Sarita told reporters that the deaths occurred due to a "rare virus" and that the health department has taken all preventive measures. "We need to ascertain which type of virus caused the deaths. Many viruses are zoonotic types and some can be transmitted through bats," she said.
She also said that the health department has issued directions to all District Medical Officers to maintain vigil and forward any information in case people with similar symptoms approach them for treatment.
"We have started special medical camps at Changarothu in Kozhikode to avoid further spread of the disease", she added.
Lok Sabha MP and former union minister Mullappally Ramachandran also sought the central government's intervention to contain the outbreak of what he termed was a "rare and deadly" virus in some parts of Kozhikode district.
In a letter to union health minister JP Nadda, a copy of which was made available to the media in Kochi, he said some panchayats, including Kuttiyadi and Perambra, in his Lok Sabha constituency of Vatakara were in the grip of the "deadly virus."
He said that some doctors have termed it as the "Nipah virus", while others said it was zoonotic and it spread fast and was fatal. "The mortality rate is reportedly 70 per cent. The spread of the disease needs to be contained immediately," he said.