UAE bans fruits from Indian state after Nipah virus outbreak

DUBAI/MUMBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has banned imports of fresh vegetables and fruits from the southern Indian state of Kerala where 13 people have died due to an outbreak of the rare brain-damaging Nipah virus, the Gulf state said on Tuesday.

Doctors and relatives wearing protective gear dig a grave to bury the body of a victim, who lost his battle against the brain-damaging Nipah virus, during his funeral at a burial ground in Kozhikode, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The UAE's Ministry of Climate Change and Environment also notified other local authorities, including the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and the municipalities of its emirates, to prevent the entry of any fresh produce from Kerala, it said in a statement

The ministry suspects that fruit bats are the source of the virus. It said it was banning fresh produce, including mangoes, dates and bananas - the bats’ preferred fruits.

Indian health officials have not been able to trace the origin of the Nipah outbreak and have begun a fresh round of tests on fruit bats from Perambra, the suspected epicenter of the infection.

Kerala has sent 116 suspected cases for testing in recent weeks, 15 have been confirmed with the deadly disease and 13 of these people have died, with two patients still undergoing treatment.

No confirmed cases of the virus have been found outside the state.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which is spread through body fluids and can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Last week, the UAE consulate in Kerala advised travelers to take precautions and follow safety instructions issued by the Indian authorities.

For a graphic on Nipah virus, click

The Gulf state has also banned imports of live animals from South Africa, based on a notification from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) of the registration of Rift Valley Fever disease, the ministry said.

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture said on May 16 that an outbreak of the disease had been confirmed in sheep on a single farm in the central Free State province and that further investigations were being conducted. Officials could not be reached on Tuesday to provide updates.

The disease is spread by mosquitoes and the department said its potential to spread was reduced by the onset of the dry winter season in the region.

Humans can be infected with Rift Valley Fever if contact is made with the blood or other body fluids of a diseased animal.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Subrat Patnaik; additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg; Writing by Aziz El aakoubi; Editing by Mark Potter and Alexandra Hudson