Health officials in India are on high alert for a rare deadly virus spread by fruit bats that can cause flu-like symptoms and has already killed at least 10, with more than 40 others in quarantine.
There is no vaccine for the Nipah virus, and treatment typically consists of supportive care.
The outbreak’s first death occurred on Friday in Kerala, a state in South India on the Malabar Coast. As the news spread, many residents swarmed local hospitals out of fear that they had contracted the deadly disease.Coast.
The virus, first detected in Malaysia in 1998, is spread through infected bats’ fluids or an infected patient’s body fluids. It has an average fatality of around 75 percent, and symptoms include body aches, fever, vomiting and even encephalitis.
Those who recover from the virus may be prone to relapse.
“This is a new situation for us,” the state’s health minister, K.K. Shailaja, told Reuters. “We have no prior experience in dealing with the Nipah virus. We are hopeful we can put a stop to the outbreak.”
In addition to the 10 fatalities, two patients who tested positive for the virus are being closely monitored. One of the victims, Lini Puthussery, a nurse, likely contracted the virus while caring for an infected patient, The Times of India reported.
India has sent a team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to investigate the outbreak, while officials in the world’s second most populous country scramble to contain it from spreading further.
“Since all the contacts are under observation and steps to avoid exposure through animal vectors have been taken, there is no reason for people to panic,” the agency said.
However, health experts stressed the importance of early detection and infection control.
“It will not spread like wildfire because it is not airborne, but it can be risky if they don’t follow proper infection control procedures,” Dr. D Himanshu, of King George’s Medical University in Lucknow, told Reuters.
Investigators reportedly are zeroing in on a specific well in Kerala that the victims drew water from. Samples from bats found in the well were sent to laboratories to be screened for the virus, Reuters reported. Kerala officials are also expected to issue a travel advisory for the region.
India has suffered two outbreaks of the virus in the last decade, accounting for 50 fatalities, according to the World Health Organization.
Reuters contributed to this report.