Nipah virus has put Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kannur, and other major cities in Kerala on high alert. The neighboring areas of Tamil Nadu are also on alert with increased vigilance for any suspect case with Nipah-like symptoms.
A 12-yo boy, diagnosed with this bat-virus infection, died a few days ago in the Kerala hospital. The boy was earlier taken to two hospitals after he developed a fever, but treatments were not successful. His blood samples were then sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune, Maharashtra, where the center confirmed it was an infection of NiV or the Nipah virus. The body of the victim was carefully buried to prevent the virus from the spread.
Currently, the government authorities have stepped up in contacting and testing people who may have come in contact with the young boy. They have primarily put his family members under strict quarantine and hospitalized his parents. However, this case has caused panic among health authorities from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and New Delhi as the governments have been already finding it hard to bring down the Covid-19 situation on the state levels.
What is the Nipah virus? How did it originate and what are its symptoms like? How it spreads from animals to humans and how lethal is it? This article covers every single fact you need to know about this “bat-virus”. Read this article till the very end.
What is Nipah virus?
Similar to the coronavirus, Nipah is also a zoonotic virus, that is transmissible from animals to humans. The spread generally occurs when humans either come into direct contact with the animals or through consuming contaminated food. Fruit bats commonly known as the "flying fox" are the natural carriers of Nipah. They are known to transmit the virus to other animals including pigs, dogs, cats, goats, horses, and also sheep. Some research works have also concluded that they can reach humans via a host of other animals including dogs, cats, and rats.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report on Nipah, the virus was first recognized in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia.
Past Experience in India
- The first case of the Nipah outbreak in India was reported in 2001 in West Bengal’s Siliguri. Drinking of fresh date palm sap led to the transmission of the Nipah virus to humans. 65 persons were infected by the Nipah virus, and 45 of them had died.
- In 2018, the NiV outbreak was reported from the Kozhikode & Malappuram districts of Kerala that claimed 17 lives.
- Another Nipah case was identified in Kochi in 2019.
Is Nipah Virus deadlier than Covid?
The nature of Nipah virus infection is such that if the outbreak goes out of control, it can pose a bigger threat to public health than the whole coronavirus pandemic. While the fatality rate of Covid-19 is less than 2%, the same in the case of Nipah virus infections can range from 45% to 70%, nearly 30 times more lethal.
This death rate assessment by Global Virus Network (GVN) is based on the previous Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala that killed 17 of the 19 infected patients.
According to the WHO, 20% of the Nipah survivors experience neurological symptoms that can persist even after treatment, including personality changes. There is no cure or vaccine for Nipah yet, and patients are only given the required medical care.
How does the Nipah virus spread?
Nipah virus (NiV) has a wider transmission route compared to SARS-CoV-2. Fruit bats are the active carriers of the virus. These host bats contaminate dates and other fruit sap through their urine, feces, or saliva. Humans get infected with the Nipah virus when they eat or drink contaminated food or drink.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Nipah virus can spread to people through:
- Direct contact with infected animals (bats, pigs, dogs, rats, etc.) or their body fluids such as blood, urine, or saliva
- Consuming food products that have been contaminated by infected animals
- Close contact with a person infected with NiV or their body fluids which includes nasal or respiratory droplets, urine, or any possible blood transfusion
What are the symptoms among infected Nipah patients?
Nipah virus infection can cause troublesome signs within an infected person. The symptoms can range from moderate to severe cases. Some patients might remain asymptomatic, the WHO says. The incubation period (time for an infection to show its effects) ranges from 3 to 14 days. According to the WHO, an incubation period of 45 days has also been reported.
Initial symptoms of the Nipah virus infection include:
- Myalgia (pain in muscles)
- Sore throat.
If the infection aggravates, the early symptoms can lead to:
- Altered consciousness
- Neurological disorders
In some severe cases, Nipah virus infection could lead to:
- Acute respiratory infection
- Atypical pneumonia
- Severe respiratory problems
- Encephalitis or swelling in the brain cells that can either progress to coma in 24 to 48 hours or cause death
How does the life of a survivor look like?
Most of the Nipah survivors make a full recovery. However, in some cases, Nipah virus infection leaves the survivor with residual neurological conditions in the aftermath which includes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain cells) and sometimes, partial paralysis. According to the WHO, relapses have been reported after recovery in some cases.
How can we prevent the Nipah virus spread?
Unlike Covid-19, no vaccine has been developed to fight against Nipah virus infection. Since there is no treatment available, the doctors only do symptomatic treatment, much like the cases of Covid-19.
The WHO has identified Nipah as a priority disease for its Research and Development Blueprint. The organization recommends intensive support and care for patients infected with the Nipah virus. The health agencies highlight the risk of bat-to-human transmission and suggest focusing on bats’ access to date palm sap and other fresh food products. The most effective prevention strategy is to control the Nipah virus among intermediary animals such as pigs.
- Based on the experience gained during the outbreak of Nipah in Malaysia, thorough cleaning and disinfection of pig farms may be effective in preventing infection, the WHO advisory says.
- If an outbreak is suspected, the animal premises must be quarantined immediately.
- Restricting the movement of animals from infected farms to other areas can reduce the spread of the disease.
- Establishing an animal health or wildlife surveillance system to provide early warning for veterinary and human public health authorities.
Appropriate food practices should be adopted as prevention protocol against Nipah. Follow these to minimize the spread from your end:
- Thoroughly wash and peel fruits and boil freshly collected date palm juice before consuming
- Use protective coverings to prevent bat access to palm sap and other fresh fruit products
- Avoid consuming pork (pig meat)
- Do not consume uncooked or partially cooked meat products
- Wash your hands properly after handling fruits or meat products