The outbreak in Kerala of Nipah virus, a zoonotic disease that is usually transmitted to humans from fruit bats, could be the result of human-to- human transmission, epidemiologists and virologists who are now investigating this matter said.

Preeti Sudan, Union health secretary, who is receiving regular updates of the situation, said: “it could be a case of human-to-human transmission but it is too early to confirm that as our expert team has just reached the spot, and will take about a day or two to submit its report.”

Sudan added “We have sent samples for checking to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune and expect the results to help us understand better the exact nature of transmission.”

Investigation of the source of the Nipah virus, following the NIV’s confirmation of the death of three people in Kerala, is being done by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), a team of which is now in the affected areas.

Dr Promila Gupta, director general health services (DGHS) said “Our initial investigation says people have died due to respiratory distress syndrome that damaged their lungs. We are conducting a detailed investigation and should know soon what exactly the situation is on ground.”

“Whether it was a single source infection or one of the three dead got infected and infected others is difficult to tell and needs to be investigated. Our focus will be to find out the source of spread,” said a team member to the media but requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

A 19-year old woman and a 1.5-year-old child have been admitted in the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS) in Kochi. Doctors are suspecting that they both have been infected by the Nipah virus. Doctors are also suspecting that human to human transmission had happened in these cases because they both were in physical contact with the three who died of the disease as has been confirmed by NIV.

Dr Sanjeev Singh, medical director, AIMS, Kochi said “the woman’s fiancée has died of Nipah so she has a history of close contact and the child suffers from a congenital heart defect because of which he was admitted in the same hospital ward as one of the dead. The reports for both so far are negative but as the incubation period is 18 days, we might send samples for repeat testing.”

The woman had symptoms of fever and cough along with headache, nausea and tiredness. Her fiancé and his brother are among those confirmed dead due to unknown virus.

Although she did not have the symptoms yet, but as a precautionary measure, the woman has been kept in an isolation ward and even the doctors treating her are avoiding direct contact with her.

Dr Singh said, “there appears to be human-to-human transmission as the high infection rate suggests. It is unlikely that so many people will eat the same food or drink same water.”

(Adapted from TheHindustanTimes.com)