The risk to the UAE of Nipah virus, which has killed at least 13 people during a recent outbreak in Kerala, India, remains minimal, although health authorities have warned residents against going to areas where the infection has spread.
Nipah virus is an emerging infection that affects both animals and humans, with flu-like symptoms that can in extreme cases lead to a brain-swelling condition known as encephalitis.
Residents have been asked to avoid unnecessary travel to areas of India such as Kozhikkode and Malappuram in Kerala where there have been multiple cases of the virus.
Dr Nosa Aihie, medical director for the Mena area at International SOS, a company of experts in global health issues, said: “Our current assessment is that there is no risk of the Nipah virus spreading to the UAE. Within India, local authorities are doing everything necessary to minimise these risks. Health officials have stepped up measures to control the outbreak, and contacts have been quarantined for monitoring.”
“Given how well the situation is being handled locally in India, as well as the fact that UAE authorities are always very well prepared and on alert for any screening against potential risks or diseases, we are confident that even with regular air travel between Kerala and the UAE, the airports on either end should be more than capable of assessing and preventing the travel of anyone who has potentially been in contact with the virus,” said Dr Aihie.
Travellers returning to the UAE from Kerala who suspect they have symptoms of the virus have been asked to call a local medical facility before heading to an emergency room to reduce the chance of spreading the virus.
Symptoms include fever, headache and muscle pain. It can progress to a severe illness, with pneumonia or encephalitis. In these cases, people can become drowsy, disoriented and suffer convulsions and coma.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention is monitoring the situation and has alerted those traveling to Kerala to the possibility of contracting the infection, advising people to postpone unnecessary travel until the situation has been controlled.
Emergency measures have been imposed in Kerala following the emergence of the virus, which has a mortality rate of 70 per cent and has no vaccine.
According to World Health Organisation, the virus in humans has a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis. Infection occurs through direct contact with infected bats, animals or other people, or through consuming fruit or unpasteurised fruit juice which has been contaminated by bats.