New Delhi | Aalok Sensharma: The emergence of the Nipah virus in Kerala at a time when the southern state is reporting a spike in COVID-19 cases has triggered an alarm among the health authorities. On Friday, the Kerala government, as part of its fever surveillance, conducted a house-to-house survey within a three-km radius from the house of the 12-year-old boy who succumbed to the infection last week.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the state government has also decided to set up four mobile labs in the area to conduct COVID-19 or Nipah tests for those with mild symptoms.

Although the Nipah virus and COVID-19 might appear similar, they are quite different from each other. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nipah is a "zoonotic virus" which means it spreads from animals to humans or contaminated food. Like COVID-19, Nipah can also be transmitted directly from human to human.

Though the Nipah virus spreads slower than COVID-19, the fatality rate remains high. "The case fatality rate is estimated at 40 per cent to 75 per cent. This rate can vary depending on local capabilities for epidemiological surveillance and clinical management," the WHO said on its website.

Can the Nipah virus as well as the COVID-19 virus infect the same patient?

Health experts believe that the likelihood of both Nipah and COVID-19 simultaneously infecting a single patient is less. Speaking to Jagran English, Dr Swadeep Srivastava, Founder and Chairman of HEAL Foundation and India Virtual Hospital, said that this is because "Nipah does not spread far and wide but remains confined to smaller areas or clusters".

When asked about the treatment, Dr Srivastava said that there is no licensed treatment available for the Nipah virus. He said that the treatment "is limited to supportive care, including rest, hydration, and treatment of symptoms as they occur".

"There are, however, immunotherapeutic treatments (monoclonal antibody therapies) that are currently under development and evaluation for the treatment of NiV infections," he told Jagran English.

What about the precautions one must take to avoid getting infected by the Nipah virus?

According to Dr Srivastava, the following precautions must be taken to contain the spread of the Nipah virus:

• Practice handwashing regularly with soap and water.

• Avoid contact with sick bats or pigs.

• Avoid areas where bats are known to roost.

• Avoid consumption of raw date palm sap.

Will the Nipah virus be a challenge for India especially when the country is already struggling with COVID-19 cases?

Dr Srivastava told Jagran English that though this is not the first time when the Nipah virus has been reported in Kerala, it might pose a challenge as the country is already struggling to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

"As per this year's reporting of the Nipah case, it is the fifth time the virus has been detected in India and the third time in Kerala. So, this is not a new emergence in India; however, it will pose a challenge before India because the country has been struggling to combat COVID-19 cases for one and a half years," he said.

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma