Kerala gets antibody to fight Nipah virus; mobile lab to test samples

The antiviral is the only option available to the government to treat the virus, although its efficacy has not been clinically proven yet.

Published: 14th September 2023 10:26 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th September 2023 10:26 PM   |  A+A-

Health workers at a control room set up amid Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, in Kozhikode, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Photo | PTI)


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM/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.

Kerala State Health Minister Veena George said 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 and referred to consultations between the State and the Union Health Ministry.

The ICMR's mBSL-3, the first biosafety level-3 containment mobile laboratory of South Asia will help early testing and detection of the infection at the district itself.

So far, the samples were being sent to the National Institute of Virology in Pune.

The mobile laboratory was set up in February last year to investigate newly emerging and reemerging viral infections that are highly infectious and are potentially lethal for human beings.

Also, a fully-equipped mobile virology testing laboratory of the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) was dispatched to the northern Kerala district to strengthen virus testing and detection.

This is the fourth time the viral infection has been confirmed in the state.

In 2018 and 2021 it was detected in Kozhikode and in 2019 in Ernakulam.

The m102.4 monoclonal antibody, an experimental therapeutic, was imported during the 2018 Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode for the treatment of infected patients, on compassionate grounds.

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 at the time with the support of the ICMR.

George lauded the RGCB for stepping in to help the Nipah containment efforts and said more samples could now be tested.

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.

Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Dr Bharati Pravin Pawar reviewed the steps taken for the containment of the Nipah outbreak and visited NIV, Pune to take stock of preparations.

The district administration declared Saturday (September 16) also a holiday for educational institutions in Kozhikode in addition to today and tomorrow.

George said in the State Assembly that there was no need to be apprehensive about the Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode but caution needs to 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 the state has been vigilant and Kozhikode's neighbouring districts of Kannur, Wayanad and Malappuram should also be cautious.

The minister also said 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.

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.

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 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.

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