Kerala health minister KK Shailaja on Monday said there was no need to panic after at least three people in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts died of infection caused by the Nipah virus. Three more are suspected to have succumbed to the ailment. “We have contained the outbreak effectively,” Shailaja told the Hindustan Times.

Nipah is a virus that can be transferred from animals to humans. It causes fever and cold-like symptoms in its patients that quickly advances to encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain, and myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. There is no vaccine or cure for Nipah infections at present.

Shailaja refuted the Opposition’s allegation that the government had been slow in dealing with the Nipah-related deaths. “We were on our toes when the second case was reported on May 18,” Shailaja said. “We immediately rushed blood and other samples to virology institute [National Institute of Virology] in Pune and sought the help of two well-known hospitals, Kasturba Medical College in Manipal and Apollo [Hospital] in Chennai.”

The minister said the government would seek the World Health Organisation’s help if needed. “Take other outbreaks in the world, we identified the malady in record time and took effective measures,” Shailaja claimed. “We managed it well due to the state’s robust health infrastructure.”

Health Secretary Rajeev Sadanandan told that the government had implemented a three-pronged approach to trace the source of the disease and find out how far the infection may have spread. Forest department officials are looking for signs of the Nipah antibody among bats, which are a known host for the virus.

The veterinary department is testing domestic animals such as pigs to check for signs of the virus, while health department officials are carrying out contact tracing to identify people that infected patients may have come in contact with. These people are then monitored for signs of the infection. Sadanandan reiterated that first-line healthcare workers are at high risk since they are most likely going to come into contact with infected patients.

A team of experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences is expected to visit Kozhikode on Tuesday, Matrubhumi reported, along with a team from Bhopal’s National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases.

Meanwhile, Karnataka’s health department is on high alert and it has increased surveillance in districts such as Mysore, Kodagu, Chamarajanagar and Dakshin Kannada that border Kerala, Deccan Herald reported.