Deciphering Nipah: All you need to know about the deadly virus

Nipah
Male scientist in a cleanroom laboratory

Last year, a rare virus, Nipah had claimed 17 lives in North Kerala -- 14 in Kozhikode and three in neighbouring Malappuram district. Exactly a year after the outbreak of the dreaded Nipah fever, the health authorities in Kerala are on guard against its likely recurrence.

Kerala Health Minister K K Shailaja has stated that a youth who has been admitted to a private hospital in Cochin with fever is likely infected with the Nipah virus.

Given the situation, it is important to understand the Nipah virus and why should one take all possible precaution to avoid contracting it? Here's a fact-check.

Nipah's origin

The virus was first identified in Kampung Sungai Nipah area of Malaysia in 1998 when a brain fever epidemic broke. The disease spreads from fruit bats to humans as well as animals. Most of those infected people were workers at pig breeding centres. The virus can also pass on to humans from fruits that have been touched by bats. It could spread from infected people to others. No vaccine have been developed yet.

The NiV infection was reported later in Bangladesh in 2001 after it spread to humans who consumed date palm sap contaminated by infected fruit bats. According to WHO, human-to-human transmission has also been documented, including in a hospital in India.

It was reported in many studies that there was a threat of further outbreak of this dangerous disease larger on the Indian subcontinent.

Signs and symptoms

Infection with NiV is associated with encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The disease begins with breathing difficulty, terrible headache and fever and progresses to brain fever. Death rate among infected people is 74.5 per cent.

NiV infection in humans has a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis, says WHO. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care.

Kozhikode medicos who stubbed out Nipah threat braces up amid latest scare

Transmission

Transmission of NiV to humans occur after direct contact with infected bats, infected pigs, or from other NiV infected people.

In March 2018, WHO had listed some eight potential global diseases which could potentially trigger deadly global epidemic in the near future, calling for urgent measures to accelerate research and development to tackle it. These diseases pose major public health risks and further research and development is needed, including surveillance and diagnostics, a WHO statement said.

Remedy

The minister sought to allay fears of the people saying they are unwarranted. "Doctors from Kozhikode medical college who are experienced in treating patients affected with Nipah virus will reach Kochi. We will also seek the advice of former health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan," she said.

The minister said medicines brought from Australia are available in the National Virology Institute. The state can avail them if infection is confirmed, she said.

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