Urges people to not panic of the outbreak reported in Kerala

The health ministry is closely monitoring the outbreak of Nipah virus (NiV) in some parts of Kerala in India, according to a notification it issued yesterday.

The notification urged people not to panic, as there are mechanisms in place to prevent, detect and to respond to such public health event.

Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus, which means it is transmitted from animals to humans.

Director of public health department, Dr Karma Lhazeen, said the ministry takes the Nipah virus outbreak in the neighbouring country as a public health emergency because the virus has high mortality rate.

She said the ministry has mechanisms put in place for any sort of diseases that could emerge. “We have a holistic mechanism in place to detect and respond to such incidences.”

The ministry has a surveillance system that requires health centres to immediately report of any problem or suspected outbreak in an area. “After receiving the information, we do a risk assessment at the Royal Centre for Disease Control and make recommendations immediately.”

Health workers have also been prepared to respond to local health emergencies, she added.  Health emergency preparedness plan and simulation are carried out annually to tackle an outbreak of diseases.

Fruit bats are the natural host of NiV. Transmission occurs via respiratory droplets, contact with throat or nasal secretions from pigs, or contact with the tissue of a sick animal.

According to WHO, consumption of fruits or fruit products like raw date palm juice contaminated with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats is a source of infection. The virus also spreads directly from human-to-human through close contact with people’s secretions and excretions.

The virus can cause a range of mild to severe disease in domestic animals such as pigs while in humans, the infection causes a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infection and fatal encephalitis. Infected people initially develop influenza-like symptoms of fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat.

Some can also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress. Encephalitis and seizures occur in severe cases, progressing to coma within 24 to 48 hours.

Between four and 14 days may elapse between the infection and a patient’s first symptoms.

Although the risk of getting infected with the virus from bats and pigs are low in Bhutan, Dr Karma Lhazeen said the risk is in people travelling in and out of the affected places.

She said if people have visited the affected places and if they notice the disease’s symptoms in them then they should immediately report to the health centres.

“They have to let the health workers know that they have visited the Nipah virus affected places,” she said. “They should also avoid close contacts with people around unless it is ruled out that they are not infected with the virus.”

There are no vaccines available against Nipah virus (NiV). It can be prevented by controlling the virus in domestic animals, educating and creating awareness on the disease, and controlling infection in health-care settings.

The primary treatment for humans is supportive care. Health officials said the only way to reduce infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to and decrease infection from NiV.

People are advised to practice good hand hygiene at all times.Health officials said more details about the NiV are available on the health ministry’s Facebook page and WHO website.

The virus was first reported in Malaysia among the pig farmers in 1998 and the pigs were the intermediate host.

Dechen Tshomo