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India's Kerala state reports two deaths from Nipah virus

Staff install a sign reading "Nipah isolation ward, entry strictly prohibited" at a hospital where a ward is being prepared for suspected Nipah virus patients in Kozhikode

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India has recorded two deaths from the rare Nipah virus in the state of Kerala, an official from the National Institute of Virology said on Tuesday.

One person died this month while another death occurred on Aug. 30, said the official, who declined to be named.

Two more people from the same family were also suspected to have been infected and their samples have been sent for testing, the official said, adding the virology institute had sent its report to the federal health ministry.

The deadly brain-damaging Nipah virus, which is transmitted to humans through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected bats, pigs or other people, was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak of illness affecting pig farmers and others in close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore.

There are no treatments or vaccines against the virus.

Mass testing will begin in the area where the latest cases were found and some quarantine measures have been put in place

This is the fourth Nipah outbreak in Kerala since 2018. The first and worst outbreak began with a 26-year-old man who went to hospital with a fever and cough that spread to family members and other patients before it was diagnosed as Nipah.

Twenty one of the 23 infected people died then. In 2019 and 2021, Nipah claimed two more lives.

A Reuters investigation published in May identified parts of Kerala as among the places most at risk globally for outbreaks of bat viruses. Extensive deforestation and urbanization have brought people and wildlife into close contact.

(Reporting by Rupam Jain and Deborah NelsonEditing by Mark Potter)