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Assam tourists shelve plans to visit Kerala


GUWAHATI, May 27: Outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus in Kerala has forced many in Assam to shelve their holiday plans to visit the Southern State this summer to beat the heat.

A large chunk of people from Assam visit Kerala during peak summer every year. Monsoon season between June and August is considered the best time to travel to Kerala, especially for those who wish to take Ayurvedic therapies.
Tanwir Ahmed of Machkhowa in Guwahati, who was excited about his family’s visit to Kerala this summer, has cancelled the plan. “We had planned our summer vacation in Kerala in the first week of July. After the scare of the Nipah virus, we have cancelled our visit. As we are regular clients of the travel company, officials have refunded our advance booking amount. Now we are planning a trip to Sikkim,” Ahmed said.

“I thank God that we came to know about the Nipah virus well in advance, otherwise nothing could have been done once we had landed in Kerala,” Ahmed added.

Another city resident Rajesh Pillai, who was going back home in Kerala during the vacation, changed his plans. “It is not safe to go to Kerala after 10 deaths in the State. We were planning a get together back home, but now it has been cancelled,” said Pillai. The State Health Department has, however, not issued any restriction on people visiting Kerala, where the virus has so far claimed 12 persons, following directions from the central surveillance unit of the integrated disease surveillance programme under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Affairs.

“There is no need to panic about the Nipah virus. It is restricted to two districts of Kerala. We have been asked by the Centre not to put any restriction on people visiting Kerala,” said Umesh Phangcho, State Nodal Officer, Vector-borne Disease Control Programme, Assam.

Phangcho said people should take some precautionary measures like avoiding eating fruits bitten by bats and should eat pork only after boiling it properly. He said the Nipah virus is not carried by mosquitoes.

The Union Health Ministry, however, has issued an advisory mentioning how the disease spreads, its symptoms and preventive measures. The ministry has advised the public to avoid consuming raw date palm sap or toddy and half-eaten fruits from the ground, to refrain from entering into abandoned wells, and eat only washed fruits.

Nipah virus first appeared in domestic pigs in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999. In Kerala, bat has been identified as a carrier of the virus. The illness commonly presents as brain inflammation, but in some patients the early phase of the illness may also be marked by fever, persistent cough and difficulty in breathing.