Kerala Nipah crisis: Man who contained virus in 2001 sees no need to panic

To stop the spread, you may need to quarantine the area, says Dr NK Ganguly, former director, ICMR

When the first outbreak of Nipah (NiV) hit India in 2001 at Siliguri, NK Ganguly, the then director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Director General of Health (DGH) was there to oversee, supervise and understand what was happening on the ground. Dr Ganguly is a Microbiology specialising in tropical diseases. Currently, Dr Ganguly is the President of Apollo Hospitals Educational and Research Foundation (AHERF). He wrote the first paper in India on the Nipah virus.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview.

When and where did the first outbreak in India take place?

In India, the first outbreak happened in 2001 at Siliguri. The spread was very fast and people died. The dead were mostly nurses and caregivers. People who were in close proximity of the affected.

How was the infection/ Nipah virus identified?

Though the first reported outbreak happened in Malaysia in 1998, so the sequence of virus was available even though the strain in Siliguri was different.

We collected samples and cultured them and we found a vaccine strain that cannot infect further in case of Siliguri. So we started looking in-depth and found that it was the fruit bats which were responsible. If a fruit half eaten by fruit bat was eaten by a human, the saliva which the bat left behind caused the disease in human beings. It causes brain fever, respiratory disorder and the only option is to give symptomatic refilled. But you have to ensure that the caregiver is adequately protected because it is contagious.

A similar Nipah viral attack happened in Dhaka (2006). Once again the culprit was a bat although the sequence was different. It was contained quickly once the virus was identified.

What can be done to contain the fallout?

It spreads in an area where bats live, they live in high concentration and since they also spit and their excreta is around, so there is high concentration of the virus. It makes the population vulnerable. To stop the spread, you may need to quarantine the area. There are high frequency sound waves that only bats can identify, using those you need to disperse the bats. Even culling is not required.

Make sure that you isolate the patient and the caregivers take adequate precautions.

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