Nipah in the neighbourhoodAs we face the globalisation of virus transmission, we cannot afford to let our guard down.
Having endured more than a year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic, the last thing that we need right now is yet another virus outbreak. But reports from southern India are not very encouraging as Kerala state is on high alert after a 12-year-old boy died of Nipah virus infection. It is not as yet clear how the boy contracted the Nipah; by the time he came into contact with health officials, he was reported to be too sick to be able to tell them anything about what he had eaten or done. The tests conducted on the victim's family members and those he came into close contact with returned negative, leaving the health officials and researchers wondering what led to what seems to be an isolated case of transmission. Meanwhile, the state has not denied the possibility of unreported transmissions, leading authorities in the state and neighbouring states to tighten vigil and ramp up testing.
As Nepal opens up after months of travel restrictions in the wake of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the possibility of the Nipah virus making its entry into Nepal, experts say, cannot be denied at all. Authorities are reported to have activated an early warning and reporting system to investigate suspected cases of Nipah virus transmission in the country and take measures to contain its spread. To ensure that possible transmissions do not go undetected, the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division has directed health facilities across the country to send swab samples of patients with Covid-like symptoms if their health conditions start deteriorating suddenly. The fact that the Nipah virus is deadlier than the coronavirus makes prevention and timely containment all the more important even as the country braces for a possible third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic caught us off guard, although we had enough time to prepare ourselves to prevent and contain the spread. But our lackadaisical attitude prevented us from taking preventive measures, leading to institutional failures when it came to stocking medical equipment, increasing the in-patient capacities of hospitals, and hiring medical staff. But we cannot let ourselves be caught off guard this time around. We have failed to save thousands of preventable deaths in the first and second waves of the coronavirus pandemic. If anything, our past failures should prepare us to deal with a possible outbreak of the Nipah virus, which is a zoonotic disease and has a high chance of transmission in Nepal through fruit bats, pigs, and humans.
Large-scale migrations, international travel and open borders have exposed us more than ever to the possibility of transmission of the virus from all corners of the world. In that sense, we are faced with the globalisation of virus transmission. The fact that we share an open border with India puts us at a disadvantage in preventing and containing a possible outbreak of the Nipah virus transmission. With shoddy quarantine facilities, if at all, lining the border points, we are at a high risk of transmission. This does not mean that we have to panic already; it just means that collectively, we should remain vigilant to ensure that we do not create conditions for yet another outbreak.
Our experience in fighting the coronavirus pandemic should come in handy when it comes to following optimum safety protocols to prevent the transmission of any virus. Our poverty and scientific backwardness put us at a moral advantage of not becoming the vanguard in scientific innovation. But we are equally, if not more, responsible for following safety measures and scaling up our medical care facilities to prevent and contain the spread of the virus.