Nipah Virus

Confirmed cases of Nipah virus have been coming from the Indian coastal of Kerala and has claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy. In a pandemic struck world, these are worrying signs as people fear the outbreak of another pandemic. Here’s all you need to know about the virus.

Origin and past outbreaks:

Bats are the natural hosts of Nipah virus- particularly fruit bats. From bats the virus is supposed to have mutated to domestic animals like pigs, horses, goats, sheep, cats and dogs. Pigs were seen to be highly contagious to the virus. 

A zoonotic virus, it is easily transferrable from vertebrates to humans and leads to asymptomatic as well as critical illness. In severe cases, it causes encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. The death rate in Nipah is extremely high, causing death in 40% to 75% of the human cases. This is huge as compared to the coronavirus that results in death in only 3-4% of the total cases. 

The virus manifested for the first time in Malaysia in 1998, where most human infections came from being in direct contact with pigs. In later outbreaks in Bangladesh and India, consumption of fruits or fruit products infested with bat urine or saliva led to infections in humans. There have also been cases ofhuman to human transmission of the virus.

Symptoms:

The initial symptoms of Nipah virus are similar to that of COVID- acute respiratory infection including fever, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting and sore throat. However, at an advance stage people develop fatal encephalitis where patients develop dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness. There have also been seen acute respiratory symptoms and pneumonia in some cases. 

The general incubation period for infected persons is 4 to 14 days, but in some cases, there have been incubation periods as long as 45 days. 

Although complete recovery is possible, patients who face extreme cases of encephalitis are left with residual neurological symptoms. 

Treatment: 

There exists no drug or vaccine dedicated solely to the cure of those infected with Nipah virus. While WHO has listed Nipah virus on the list of epidemic threats that need immediate research and development, there hasn’t been satisfactory headway in that direction. Intensive support care (ICU) is advised in extreme cases. 

Prevention:

In the face of unavailability of vaccines and treatment, preventive care has a major role to play in keeping the virus at bay. 

Bat to human transmission can be avoided by preventing bat access to fresh fruit products and date palm sap collection centres. Fruits should be scanned for bat bites and thoroughly washed and peeled before consumption. Date palm sap should ideally be boiled to remove any bat extracts.

Animal to human transmission can be avoided by wearing proper preventive equipment like gloves and masks while treating sick animals. Extra care should be taken in handling of pigs. Pig farms should be bat-proofed as the virus is highly infectious for pigs.

Human to human transmission can be prevented by using gloves and masks with Nipah infected people and avoiding close contact with them. Regular hand washing and sanitisation of surfaces is also recommended. 

While there have been no major outbreaks of the Nipah virus, small-scale outbreaks have been plenty in the Asia-Pacific region. Keeping in mind the mutation and resurfacing of viruses, Nipah poses as another potential pandemic threat to the world. Raising awareness, as well as speeding up research into its cure is the need of the hour, as new cases are coming up in coastal India.

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