Nipah: Kozhikode lab test results are not official, but helps state to act fast
The results from the National Virology Institute unit in Alappuzha helped the state to act early to contain the spread of the third wave of the Nipah virus in Kerala. The samples of the deceased tested positive for the virus at Alappuzha before it was sent to Pune NIV for confirmation.
However, the state cannot officially declare the results until the Pune NIV confirms it.
“Nipah virus is a biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) pathogen. So only NIV Pune can confirm the results because we don't have labs with BSL-4 security,” said Dr A P Sugunan, Officer-in-Charge of the NIV Kerala unit.
Muhammed Hashim had succumbed to the virus by the time the results came from Alappuzha, Dr Suresh Kumar E K, head of the Pediatric Department in Aster MIMS Hospital said. However, the state did not have to wait for the results from Pune to act on. Isolation and containment measures were started soon after the results from Alappuzha arrived.
In 2018, Kerala had a tough time with testing of Nipah virus. It was for the first time the southern state witnessed the outbreak of the virus which is classified as one of the most dangerous viruses by WHO. That is not the case anymore. The state swiftly set up a testing centre in Kozhikode medical college within hours after the first sample tested positive on Saturday. In 2019 also, a similar set-up was made at Ernakulam. The facility at Ernakulam was later moved to Alappuzha. They tested several samples over the last two years. All results were negative.
“At the temporary facility in Kozhikode, we test the samples using molecular amplification methods,” Dr Sugunan said. At NIV Pune, the virus can be cultured which is useful for studying the genome sequence. At Kozhikode, RT-PCR test and Point of Care Testing (PCT) are done.
The Kozhikode lab needs to take some extra precautions such as wearing a full PPE kit and masks with HEPA filter.
The confirmation tests done here and at Pune may sound the same. But they are slightly different. However, so far there has been not much difference in the results of the tests conducted in either place, Dr Sugunan said.
“Testing at Kozhikode and Alappuzha helps for faster patient care and also for public health,” he added.
The temporary lab was set up in a short time due to the coordinated efforts of NIV Pune, NIV Alappuzha and Kozhikode Medical College. Testing kits, reagents and apparatus were brought from the NIVs. Medical college staff were trained by the Pune NIV staff to test for the Nipah virus. Currently, four staff from Pune and Alappuzha each are at Kozhikode.
“We will leave soon. Medical college staff can take care of things from now onwards,” Dr Sugunan said. However, technicians will be continuing for some more time.
Learning from the experience of 2018, the state government made arrangements to establish the Institute of Advanced Virology (IAV) in Thiruvananthapuram. Bio 360 Life Sciences Park at Thonnakkal was selected as the location. It even started to function in 2019. However, no department in the institute has a full-fledged setup.