Thiruvananthapuram: As Kerala reeled under a daily increase of nearly 30,000 cases of Covid-19, the deadly Nipah virus has come as another thorn in its side, prompting the state to further heighten the alertness of its health machinery to prevent an outbreak of a different infection. The southern state, which already saw a localised outbreak of 63 cases of Zika virus in July that were mostly confined to Thiruvananthapuram, however, need not be concerned about the spread of Nipah infection as preventive measures like use of masks and PPE kits - are already in place due to Covid and intensive contact tracing was going on, state health minister Veena George said.
Meanwhile, the central government has rushed a team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to provide support to the state, where a 12 year-old boy died due to Nipah on Sunday and two others displayed symptoms of the virus infection. However, experts, like Dr Amar Fettle, Dr TS Anish and Dr TN Suresh, said that there was less cause for concern at present as the state has already dealt with the Nipah virus twice in the past - when it reared its head in 2018 and 2019 - and the risk of transmission would be less this time round as protective measures, like wearing of masks and PPE kits, are already in place.
They also said that Nipah infections are usually confined to small clusters or areas. The experts said that "intensive contact tracing" and quarantine of all primary contacts were the two main steps to be taken to ensure effective control over spread of the infection.
Dr Fettle, the nodal officer for H1N1, said that the Nipah infection is very pathogenic, but it is more likely to spread once the patient's condition becomes severe - when they are hospitalised. He said that risk of the infection spreading would, therefore, be higher in the hospital than at community level.
Hence, while doing contact tracing, people who may have come into contact with the patient at the hospitals should be "meticulously traced", he said. He said that steps taken by the state to tackle Covid, like preparing a time stamped route map of patients, would come in handy here also as it would help public health authorities inform people about the places visited by the infected person and at what times.
This will let people know as to who all need to quarantine themselves or come forward for testing if they exhibit symptoms and would avoid widespread panic in the district or state, he said. Dr Anish, a specialist in Community medicine, and Dr Suresh, general secretary of the Kerala Government Medical Officers Association, were also of a similar view that contact tracing and quarantine of primary contacts were the two most important steps presently.
Dr Anish said that Nipah usually remains confined to smaller areas or clusters and its numbers remain very few and hardly ever crosses even 50. Dr Suresh said that the state has already dealt with the virus twice in the past and therefore, it already has a model in place to "effectively" tackle it. Moreover, due to the prevailing Covid pandemic, people are already taking preventive steps like wearing masks and kits, and therefore, the spread of Nipah may be less. Also, due to Covid, the victim's list of contacts would be limited, he said and added that local containment activities are already in motion.