Kerala falls back on Nipah formula: Tracing coronavirus patient’s contacts

Shaju Philip
coronavirus, coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus Kerala, Novel Coronavirus India, coronavirus china, wuhan, Indian Express news

Officials had earlier feared that the woman might have used public transport to reach her home in Thrissur, which is about 55 km from the Kochi airport. (File photo)

After India's first confirmed case of coronavirus was detected in Kerala’s Thrissur district, health officials have fallen back on an ambitious and exhaustive exercise that helped them contain the lethal Nipah virus in 2018 — trace and monitor every single person who has been exposed to the patient.

On Friday, the Health Department identified 58 primary and 45 secondary contacts of the novel Coronavirus (nCoV 2019) patient, a 20-year-old woman medical student who  returned from Wuhan last week, and whose condition has
“improved”.

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Officials said a list has also been prepared after analysing the patient’s itinerary — from the day she left Wuhan, and transited through Kunming, Kolkata and Kochi before reaching home, until she was placed in isolation at the Thrissur government hospital. Her activities and contacts with others during that period were traced, too.

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Primary contacts are those with direct exposure to the index case, while the secondary category includes persons who came into touch with those on the primary list. In 2018, such a strategy proved crucial in containing the spread of the Nipah virus that claimed 17 lives in Kerala.

This time, officials said, the primary contacts are being brought under the observation of a network of public health centres. Ambulances are ready in all districts to take them to hospitals for isolation, if required, they said. Officials said passengers of the Kolkata-Kochi flight that the student took on January 23 will also be monitored. However, staff at the international airport in Kochi are not on the list of contacts as they had already been equipped with personal protective gear.

“We have tracked her return journey from Wuhan to Kerala. She had boarded a flight from Wuhan to Kunming on January 22. She reached Kolkata the next day, and travelled to Kochi on an IndiGo flight. The airlines and airport authorities will be informed so that other identified passengers can be intimated,” sources said.

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Officials had earlier feared that the woman might have used public transport to reach her home in Thrissur, which is about 55 km from the Kochi airport. “It turned out that she was picked up from the airport by her parents in their car. After reaching home on January 24, she did not step out much, except to visit a primary health centre in the neighborhood. Three staffers of that centre are now under observation. Later, when the symptoms appeared, she didn’t go to the PHC but informed them over phone. That helped limit the exposure,” an official said.

Dr Mohanan Kunnummal, Vice Chancellor, Kerala University of Health Sciences, said the system could act promptly because of the lessons learned from the Nipah outbreak. “We have an excellent system at various levels to monitor those who have been exposed to infection or infected persons. We have activated the emergency system, which had been in operation during the Nipah outbreak,” he said.

On Friday, while no fresh positive case was reported, the number of those under observation rose to 1,471 — 1,421 are under home quarantine. The number of those isolated in hospitals rose from 15 to 50.

After a high-level review meeting, Health Minister K K Shailaja said precautionary steps have been strengthened across Kerala. The number of those under observation has increased because more persons who returned from Wuhan have reported at hospitals, she said. So far, 39 samples have been sent to National Institute of Virology in Pune.

The Minister said more isolation rooms and units will be readied with the support of private hospitals. Medical and paramedical staff in district-level hospitals have been given “rigorous training to tackle the situation”. The training will be extended to primary health centre staff, who are involved in monitoring those in home quarantine.