Kerala’s Health and Family Welfare Department has issued a directive asking people to undertake precautionary measures before the Nipah virus transmission season begins, Manorama reported on Thursday. Nipah infections are reported between December and June, the department said.

The advisory follows the deaths of at least 17 people from Nipah infection in Kozhikode and Malappuram earlier this year.

In the letter, Health Secretary Rajeev Sadanand asked the director of health services and the director of medical education to issue warnings against eating fruit bitten by bats, and to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption.

Sadanand also directed medical colleges, district and taluk hospitals to take extra precautions while treating patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome. “Persons suffering from cough are to be directed to a ‘cough corner’ in the hospital where they will be supplied with masks,” Sadanand said.

In July, the Kerala government had declared Kozhikode and Malappuram free of the Nipah virus. Nipah is a virus that can be transferred from animals to humans. It causes fever and cold-like symptoms in patients before quickly advancing 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.