May 21 (UPI) -- Officials say at least nine people have died in India from the Nipah virus, an infection that spreads through bats, pigs and other animals.
"Private hospitals have been instructed to not deny treatment for anyone suffering from fever," he wrote. "An expert medical team of the union government has arrived on the request of the State Government."
At least 12 others have been admitted to various hospitals, officials said. Families in close proximity to affected areas have been evacuated.
India's National Institue of Virology said some of the deaths have been attributed to fever caused by the Nipah virus.
"We have sent samples of other deceased to the National Virology Institute in Pune. We can ascertain the exact cause of death only after obtaining results," State Health Secretary Rajeev Sadananndan said.
Health minister KK Shailaja told reporters the virus has spread through direct contact and exchange of body fluids. Additionally, health officials say they found mangoes bitten by bats at a home where three people died. Fruit bats are considered to be hosts of the Nipah virus.
There is no vaccine and the only form of treatment is supportive medicines and palliative care.
The outbreak started with the deaths of three relatives in Perambra over a period of two weeks. At least four other relatives were hospitalized with similar symptoms. Some domesticated animals have also died.
The World Health Organization has identified Nipah as having the potential to become the next major outbreak. The virus was first identified in 1999.
The India outbreak follows an outbreak of Ebola in Congo.