Thiruvananthapuram/Kozhikode/New Delhi | In the wake of the Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode district of Kerala, ICMR has delivered the antibody requested by the state to combat the deadly virus. A mobile laboratory was also sent to ground zero to enable the state to test samples.
The monoclonal antibody was delivered in Kozhikode by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Thursday. The antiviral is the only option available to the government to treat the virus, although its efficacy has not been clinically proven yet.
The ICMR's National Institute of Virology in Pune sent its mobile BSL-3 (Biosafety level-3) laboratory to Kozhikode to test samples for the Nipah virus in the district itself after five cases, including two deaths, were reported.
A five-member central team comprising experts from the National Centre for Disease Control, RML Hospital and NIMHANS has been stationed in Kerala to take stock of the situation and assist the state government in the management of the Nipah infection.
Apparently, samples will be collected from bats to check for the presence of the Nipah virus.
After the monoclonal antibody arrived in Kerala, State Health Minister Veena George said that the stability of the antiviral was discussed with a central expert committee. "Further steps or course of action would be decided by the expert committee," she said.
George also told reporters that, earlier in the day, there was a meeting between the Principal Secretary of the Health Department and the Union Health Ministry.
The m102.4 monoclonal antibody, an experimental therapeutic, was imported for the treatment of infected patients on compassionate grounds during the 2018 Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode.
It was not used back then as, by the time it arrived, the outbreak had ended.
The Standard Operating Procedures and protocols for its use were prepared back then with the support of the ICMR.
So far, the samples were being sent to NIV in Pune.
Besides that, a fully-equipped mobile virology testing laboratory rolled out today by the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) was also
dispatched to the north Kerala district to strengthen the testing and detection of the virus in samples.
The mobile virology lab, in which biosafety level (BSL) 2 and level 3 testing can be carried out, was flagged from Thiruvananthapuram by George who lauded the RGCB for stepping in to significantly help the Nipah containment efforts by rolling out such a critical facility.
The minister said that more samples can be tested once the RGCB lab reaches Kozhikode.
RGCB Director Prof Chandrabhas Narayana said the services of a group of six experts have been made available in the mobile unit, which can give results within six hours after testing the samples.
He said, like a BSL 3 facility, the mobile lab has a double airlock system and features onboard decontamination and biological waste processing capabilities. It can perform testing for bacteria, fungi, and other pathogenic organisms, as well as assess food quality.
Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar reviewed the steps taken for the containment of the Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode and also visited NIV, Pune to take stock of the preparations.
A central team, comprising experts from various fields, has also reached Kozhikode district to assess the situation and suggest remedial measures, the government said.
The activities of the team, which will forward information daily to the state government, will be coordinated by the Senior Regional Director of the Department of Health and Family Welfare, it said.
The team will work closely with officials from the Animal Husbandry Department on epidemiological assessments and control measures, it added.
Meanwhile, the district administration declared Saturday (September 16) also as a holiday for educational institutions in Kozhikode in addition to today and tomorrow. However, there will be no change in university exams schedule, she added.
Kozhikode District Collector, A Geetha, in a Facebook post, said that the three days of holidays should not be turned into an occasion for celebrations, and advised avoiding all unnecessary travel and social gatherings.
In the afternoon, Minister George said in the State Assembly that there was no need to be apprehensive about the Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode district, but that caution must be exercised by people as they go about their daily activities.
"There is no need for any apprehension. We can all together deal with the issue with caution," she said.
George said that the healthcare system across the state has been vigilant since the outbreak and said that other than Kozhikode, the neighbouring districts of Kannur, Wayanad and Malappuram should also exercise caution.
The minister also said that a 19-member core committee, call centres, and a control centre have also been set up in Kozhikode district, along with isolation, ventilator and ICU facilities in the medical college there.
Additionally, psychosocial support teams have been constituted to counsel those infected or their family members, and the treatment protocol has been further improved, the minister said.
She also advised people to wear masks, maintain social distance and approach healthcare workers in case anyone shows symptoms of cold, fever, headache or cough.
The minister also said that in areas where bats are present, liquor collected in open vessels from coconut and palm trees should not be consumed.
The brain-damaging virus has killed two people and infected three others in Kozhikode district.
It is the fourth time the virus infection has been confirmed in the state. In 2018 and 2021 it was confirmed in Kozhikode and in 2019 in Ernakulam.
On Wednesday, a 24-year old health worker became Kerala's fifth confirmed Nipah case since its recent outbreak.
Of the three infected persons under treatment, the condition of a nine-year-old boy continues to remain critical.
A 24-hour control room has also been set up in the neighbouring district of Wayanad.
The Wayanad district administration also constituted a 15-member core committee to lead prevention and surveillance activities, and to effectively deal with emergency situations.
The virus strain seen in the state was the Bangladesh variant that spreads from human to human and has a high mortality rate, though it is less infectious, the government has said.
The government has also said the WHO and ICMR studies had found out that the entire state of Kerala is prone to getting such infections, not just Kozhikode.
People living in forest areas have to take the highest precautions, it has said, adding that the latest case of the Nipah virus originated within five kilometres of a jungle area.
Around 11 wards were declared as containment zones in Kozhikode district till Wednesday evening.
Pune | Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar reviewed steps taken for containment of Nipah virus outbreak in Kozhikode, Kerala, from the Indian Council of Medical Research – National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV), in Pune on Thursday.
She visited the ICMR-NIV Institute in Pune to take stock of preparations.
After undertaking the review, Dr Pawar stated, “The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and under the guidance of Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya is monitoring the situation and necessary steps for prevention of spread are being taken. Under the guidance of Union Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, high level teams from the Centre and ICMR-NIV with mobile units equipped with BSL-3 laboratories have already reached Kozhikode and will be doing on-ground testing. Affected gram panchayats in the Kozhikode area have been declared as quarantine zones.”
The Union Minister assured that that the Union Health Ministry and the ICMR-NIV is monitoring the issue on a daily basis and all possible arrangements are being made by the central government to deal with the viral outbreak.