Rush to contain killer virus
THE Nipah virus is something new. And it has disturbing abilities.
First detected in Malaysia in 1998, a fresh flare-up of the disease has emerged in India.
The state of Kerala is reporting 10 dead, two more confirmed infected and 40 quarantined.
According to local media, panic has begun to grip the region.
Worryingly, one of the dead is a medical worker who has been working with the diseased: a 33-year-old nurse.
That's one of the warning signs of a pandemic.
A disease that kills doctors, nurses and first responders is incredibly hard to contain.
Nipah causes encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.
Fever. Vomiting. Severe headache. Occasionally, sufferers have severe breathing problems.
These early symptoms then pass into drowsiness, dorientation and confusion.
Within just one or two days, the virus can cause coma and death.
Recent studies by the World Health Organisation puts the death rate as high as 75 per cent.
Understanding it has become the subject of an urgent research program.
"(I) am almost on the way. I don't think I would be able to see you. Sorry, please take care of our children ... You shouldn't be alone like my father. With lots of love, umma."
That's the last message Sajish ever received from his wife, Lini.
She was the nurse who died earlier this week from the Nipah virus, he told
She had been treating the first victim of the outbreak. At that time it was not known what he was suffering. He succumbed to the infection earlier this month.
"She did more than what a duty nurse usually does for a patient. But even at that time, she did not know that he had a viral infection," Sajish said.
Just days later, his wife was also dead.
She started suffering fever. She was taken to a local private hospital, before being moved to a medical college.
"Lini herself said she should be admitted to the isolation ward of the hospital as if she had a premonition that it could be a viral infection. She seemed fine till Sunday because she was taking medicines by herself and even recognised everyone who came to visit," her relative Anil told The Express.
The hospital where Lini worked is now almost empty. All its patients asked to be discharged, fearing they too will catch the disease. Now only two remain.
A nurse there said: "We are scared but what do we do. We are trying to be brave. There's no other option."
The virus appears to have originated in fruit bats.
But somewhere along the line, it's picked up the rare - but dangerous - ability to jump hosts.
The first outbreak in 1998 was among pigs in the Malaysian village of Singai Nipah.
Soon, 300 people were infected. 100 of them died.
The only way to contain the outbreak was to kill millions of the country's pigs.
But more recent outbreaks have revealed the virus is even more hardy than first thought.
It can be transmitted through direct contact.
Particularly with saliva.
Touch an infected pig, cow - or human - and it has a chance to cross to you.
It can also live for a time inside fruit touched by an infected bat, as a 2004 case in Bangladesh demonstrated.
Another incident involved people contracting the virus from a family well into which a dead bat had fallen. It then quickly spread through the family and community who had contact with each other.
There is no vaccine. It can only be treated through intensive care seeking to contain its severe symptoms.
But it can be defeated.
The virus is not airborne.
It needs touch to spread.
This means avoiding contact with infected people and animals works. As does ensuring food and drink is clean.
Medical workers need to wear comprehensive protective gear.
"We are now concentrating on precautions to prevent the spread of the disease since the treatment is limited to supportive care," Rajeev Sadanandan, Kerala's health secretary, told the BBC.
The problem is getting the message out.
Medical workers in Kerala are rushing to prevent the further spread of the virus. They're warning locals not to eat raw fruits or drink raw date palm sap. They're also explaining the need not to touch.