Prevent Nipah spread, cast aside fears, says doctor who detected Nipah

by Our Correspondent | 29 Jun 2018

As health authorities in Kerala battle Nipah infection, a doctor who first identified the disease in the state during its initial outbreak has made a bid to calm the tense public in a video address.

Dr Anoop Kumar of the Baby Memorial Hospital, Kozhikode, explains what Nipah is and advises precautions, but also details his own experiences to prove that there is no need to treat the affected as untouchables. “I aim to get rid of the wrong impressions among people on Nipah,” says the doctor in a video that he has released. 

Dr Kumar recalls a visit from the son of Mariam, who was the first confirmed victim of Nipah. She had also lost her husband and two sons. “One of her sons came to see me, lamenting that people are seeing him as a horrible creature. I took off his gloves and face mask and hugged him.” 

The doctor's video runs like this (edited version): 

The Nipah virus was first reported in Kerala and identified, thanks to the collective effort of the Critical Care Medicine and the Urology departments at our hospital. I'm talking to you to allay some wrong impressions that are spreading among the people now. 

I had examined every patient initially confirmed to have Nipah. I'm exposed to the illness, but that doesn't mean that I remain infected or sick. If the virus is to pass from me to somebody else, I should have symptoms of the ailment. Cough, fever, vomiting or behavioural changes should surface. The virus is transmitted only from a person who has developed these symptoms. 

How do we know if the disease exists in our body? 

One can determine that only by blood tests carried out after the symptoms develop. Any test done before symptoms develop cannot establish the disease.

A few days back the younger son of Mariam, one of the earliest victims, came to see me. A little boy, with a face mask and hand gloves, totally rattled. He told me he could not travel around, he is not allowed to enter buses, and that people are treating him like a horrible creature. 

I took off his face mask and gloves, and hugged him. He was in tears. It was agonising, and should never happen. We should not forget that we were able to diagnose the disease only because his family was broad-minded. We told them we have a suspicion of the disease which had to be confirmed in Manipal and suggested that one of the family members have to travel there. They did it, fully realising the significance of what we said. And when the second patient died, they agreed to a postmortem in spite of the tormenting condition they were in. 

The entire Kerala is indebted to that family. There should not be another instance of wrong behaviour from our part. 

We should also remember that many of us are alive thanks to the service of people working in the health sector. We're much obliged to the nurses who attend to the patients, other staff members of a hospital, and doctors at Perambra area of the Kozhikode Medical College.

Yet, I heard a few days ago that passengers on a bus left when one of the hospital employees who nursed the Nipah-affected boarded it. That's definitely an extremely wrong tendency. As I said earlier, only a patient can pass an infection. 

One also hears debates on television channels on how to treat Nipah, whether it is necessary to bring antibody for it from Australia, why is it that we don't get untested anti-viral medicines etc. These are not points to be discussed now as the doctors in Kozhikode and other experts have found the best available treatment for Nipah. 

The channels also discuss side effects and fallouts too. But the real need is to discuss how to arrest fever. 

The fever can be arrested when those who have attended to patients isolate themselves if they develop symptoms. It takes 6 to 8 days for symptoms to develop in someone who gets infected due to proximity with the patient. The symptoms do not develop in a single day. 

I shall refer to a news item that appeared two days ago: “Two people have been confirmed with Nipah virus infection in Mangaluru.” The person developed fever and headache after returning from a trip to Kozhikode. Since he had returned from Kozhikode, it was interpreted as Nipah. It never happens like that. As I said earlier, the symptoms of Nipah develop only after 6 to 8 days. 

We have to be aware of preventive measures. They are: 

» Keep the hands clean always. If you go out, always wash your hands with soap before you have food. 

» Avoid touching the face and mouth with hands unnecessarily. 

» Wear a mask and gloves when you interact with patients. Talk to them from a 2-meter distance. 

A collective effort can eliminate this disease within two to three weeks, the doctor hoped as he concluded the video talk.

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