KOCHI, INDIA - A 28-year-old nurse in the southern Indian state of Kerala who died in an outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus has been hailed as a hero after it emerged that she was infected while taking care of an affected family.
Ms Lini Puthussery had been treating a family of three who had been diagnosed with the virus, spending an entire night taking care of them.
She started experiencing symptoms of the virus herself on Sunday (May 19) and admitted herself to hospital, asking to be quarantined.
"I don't think I will be able to see you again. Sorry. Please raise our children well," she wrote in a letter to her husband before she died on Monday, reported the BBC. Ms Puthussery had two sons, aged two and five.
At least nine other people have died in the Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode, formerly known as Calicut.
Two more people who have tested positive for the virus are critically ill, and some 40 people are in quarantine.
The virus, which can be transmitted from animals to humans, is hard to diagnose and the symptoms include fever, vomiting and headaches. It has a mortality rate of 70 per cent and there is no vaccine or cure.
Ms Puthussery's accountant husband, Mr Sajish Parambath, flew home from Bahrain after being informed she was in hospital by his brother. He told the BBC that she had also called him.
"She said, 'I am sick and I am going to the hospital for treatment,'" Mr Parambath said. He arrived in Kozhikode early on Sunday, but by then, Ms Puthussery was already in the intensive care unit.
"She was using an oxygen mask because her oxygen levels were low," Mr Parambath said. "She could not speak but she took my hand in hers and held it."
He was given the note she had written by a relative after she died.
Ms Puthussery's body was not handed over to her family and was cremated under official supervision to prevent the infection from spreading further.
Netizens hailed her sacrifice on social media and doctors called her a hero. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted condolences, saying that her "selfless service will be remembered".
Nipah tops a list of 10 priority diseases that the World Health Organisation has identified as the next potential major outbreak.
Blood and body fluid samples from suspected cases in Kerala have been send to the National Institute of Virology in the western city of Pune for study, officials said.
"Health staff are visiting individual households giving them specific instructions including about eating fruits from outside and other precautions," Mr U.V. Jose, the senior-most official in Kozhikode, told the AFP news agency.
Fruit bats are considered the natural host of the Nipah virus and health workers said they found dead bats in at a well at the home of an affected family.
The Nipah infection was first reported in India in 2001 and then six years later. Some 50 people died in the first two outbreaks.