Nipah affects all age groups- says Dr. Suresh Kumar who treated boy who died of Nipah

By Raji Puthukkudi

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In certain places where there have been Nipah outbreaks, children have also been reported to have the infection. Children are as prone to the infection as any other age group.

Dr Suresh Kumar E K

The death of a 12-year-old boy in Mavoor in Kozhikode came as a shock and an alarming cause of worry for parents. This has ruled out the speculations that kids are prone to the Nipah virus. Dr Suresh Kumar E K, head of the Pediatric Department in Aster MIMS Hospital, Kozhikode talks about the possibility of Nipah infection in children. He was also the doctor who treated the boy who died of Nipah Infection on September 5.

Dr Suresh Kumar E K
Dr Suresh Kumar E K

Ever since the Nipah outbreak in 2018, it has been largely spread around that Nipah does not affect young children. How much fact is there in that conclusion?

It is a misconception that children cannot contract the Nipah virus. This false conclusion could have come from the fact that the history of the infection shows very few children affected by the virus. In certain places where there have been Nipah outbreaks, children have also been reported to have the infection. Children are as prone to the infection as any other age group. The infection can be either due to direct contact with the source of the infection or through contact with another person affected by the Nipah virus infection. It can however be pointed out that, as children these days are seldom stepping out and engaging in very few social activities, the probability of children contracting the virus is less when compared to that of adults.

The possibility of complications in children having Covid is less. What is the case when it comes to Nipah?

Nipah virus behaves in the same way in humans of all age groups. The symptoms are also the same. The fatality rate is very high irrespective of the age of the people it affects. This rate may sometimes stretch from 46 percent to 96 percent in certain cases. The fatality rate of children affected by the virus so far is also quite high.

It is the first time a child from Kerala is contracting the virus. What symptoms did the boy show and what treatment methods were adopted?

The boy’s health was deteriorating when he was brought here. At first, the boy developed fever and vomiting. It soon changed to bouts of fits and seizures and he stopped responding to medications. His heart’s condition weakened. The child had to be ventilated following that. He was brought here in a ventilated state. Even while being ventilated, he kept having seizures that were uncontrollable even with the administration of medicines.

How did doctors suspect Nipah infection?

The child was brought here at noon on September 1. He was having repetitive seizures at that time. The boy’s condition was different from the normal encephalitis. Other symptoms included high fever and heart palpitations. It was revealed in a detailed check-up that there were major problems in his heart, lungs and brain. We talked to the boy’s parents and that raised a few doubts. The boy used to roam around on fields and farms. That is how our doubts intensified and we sensed a case of Nipah virus. The samples were collected and the Health Ministry was informed about the matter. The samples were sent to the National Institute of Virology, Alappuzha. But by the time the virus was confirmed, the boy had died.

Will early detection of symptoms help to save the lives of affected children?

The chance of detection of the infection with the early symptoms is quite low. The early symptoms usually include fever and vomiting. Nipah is not suspected at the early stage as these symptoms may appear due to many other reasons. The condition of a patient suddenly deteriorates after that, which is why saving their life becomes very difficult after a point.

What are the instructions that you would like to give to parents?

Take care of your children when they go out. Bats are found in plenty here. There is a presence of the Nipah virus too. Instruct your children to consult you before eating fruits from outside. Give fruits to your children only after thoroughly cleaning them. Avoid eating fruits with spots, decay or other bite marks. Inculcate cleanliness and personal hygiene in children. Make sure they wash their hands and legs using soap if they’ve been outside. These are the things that children, as well as adults, must follow to keep the virus at bay.

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