When the social media started buzzing that a deadly contagious disease had claimed the life of his ‘ekkakka’ (elder brother) three years ago, young Mohammed Muthalib felt agitated over the “fake news” about his family.
Because, never ever in his life had he heard about a disease called “Nipah”.
By the time the 19-year-old college student learnt about its severity, the viral infection had robbed off four members of his family in a row pushing him and his mother Mariyumma into the depth of perennial sadness.
As Kerala is once again reeling under Nipah scare, claiming the life of a 12-year-old boy recently, Muthalib recounted the tragedy that had befallen his family in 2018, saying the disease was equal to death, fear and social exclusion for them.
“There were people who were scared to talk to us even a year after the deadly disease struck our family. I am not blaming anyone…We can understand the anxiety and stress they are undergoing,” he told PTI.
A native of Sooppikkada, a nondescript village in northern Kozhikode district, Muthalib had lost his father, two elder brothers and paternal aunt within days after the virus infection had hit the southern state for the first time in 2018. One of his deceased brothers was Mohammed Sabith, the first Nipah victim in the state.
Though Sabith’s death was not recognised as due to the infection initially, the sudden demise of Mohammed Salih, another youngster in the family, raised suspicion among the doctors and the expert examination of the samples had confirmed the prevalence of the viral infection in the state.
Mariam, their paternal aunt who attended to Salih while he was at the hospital, also succumbed to Nipah subsequently. Though doctors had given hope about their 60-year-old father Moosa Musalyar initially, his condition deteriorated later and gave in to it finally.
Another woman member also contracted the disease, but her life could be saved after she was rushed to a major hospital in Ernakulam district.
“The trauma, my family underwent during those days, could not be explained in words. Five members had contracted the disease and four of them had succumbed to it in a row,” he said.
The young man said when Sabith started showing symptoms, everyone including the doctors took it as an ordinary viral fever initially. As he already had some other health issues, his death did not trigger any doubts even among relatives, the brother explained.
When Salih also caught fever and developed similar symptoms, the medical fraternity started suspecting something big, he said.
“The strange aspect is that my umma (mother) had nursed all of them. But, she was unaffected and never showed any symptom throughout the period,” the man added.
Not just the tragedy that struck the family and the fear of the disease, the isolation faced in the society was also a cause of agony for them for long.
“When the deaths occurred one by one, me and umma had shifted to my uncle’s house nearby. Around 30 people, all relatives, had to live together in that single house for several days as no one could step out out due to the fear of disease spread,” Muthalib recalled.
There were occasions when people had apprehensions to talk or shake hands with the members of the family even months after the disease affected us.
“When my paternal uncle visited the mosque then, people were reluctant to give him the customary hug or handshake. Many would used to leave the place when he approached them to talk,” he said.
Due to the Nipah fear, many married girls of his maternal family could not go back to their marital house for months as the spouses’ family asked them not to come, he said.
However, Muthalib, a graduate in sociology, said the family had no qualms, as the anxiety and tension of people about the deadly disease was understandable.
At one side when they faced societal isolation, there were many unknown people who came to their house from far away places only to console them and share their grief, he said.
“A person from Malappuram travelled all the way to my village only to see my mother, consoled her and to say that his prayers were with us,” the young man added.
Recently, Muthalib and umma shifted to their unfinished new home near the old house.
He said the state government had promised him a job after completion of his studies and is now knocking all the doors to get the assurance implemented to look after his mother, who could not afford anymore shock in her life.
Besides the two sons, who had succumbed to Nipah, Mariyumma had lost her another son in a fatal road accident in 2013.
“So, she is very scared when I go out of the house for anything,” Muthalib said.
He also urged everyone not to get panic over the spread of Nipah virus in their vicinity and completely abide by the health department directives.
A 12-year-old boy had succumbed to the virus infection in Kozhikode last week, indicating the return of the deadly disease to the southern state again. At present, there were 257 people on the contact list and of these, 141 were health workers and none of them have any serious symptoms.