Ten people in the South Indian state of Kerala have died after being infected by the Nipah virus (NiV), an emerging disease thought to be spread by fruit bats and other animals. Here’s what you should know about the outbreak.
What is the Nipah Virus?
As per the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nipah Virus is a newly emerging zoonosis that causes a severe disease in both animals and humans. As quoted by the WHO, the natural host of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus. The virus has also been isolated from environmental samples of bat urine and partially eaten fruit in Malaysia. Due to the migratory habit of the locally abundant fruit bats in South Asia, Nipah outbreaks occur more in this region. Transmission of Nipah virus to humans may occur after direct contact with infected bats, infected pigs or from other people infected with the virus.
The virus can be transferred through infected bats, pigs or humans who have been infected. Humans who were infected by other humans were reported in Bangladesh and India.
Is this the first reported Nipah virus outbreak?
No. Previous outbreaks have been reported in India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos, and Malaysia. NiV was first identified during an outbreak of disease in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia, in 1998. On this occasion, pigs were the intermediate hosts. Nipah Virus infected as many as 265 people then, out of which 40 percent were taken under intensive care due to the infection having spread severely. In Bangladesh in 2004, humans were infected with Nipah virus after consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats.
What are the signs and symptoms of Nipah Virus?
Experts say that Nipah Virus is an airborne transmission infection and can affect those who come in direct contact with contaminated bodies.
Nipah Virus is usually associated with inflammation of the brain due to which severe days of fever can often lead to a state of confusion, disorientation and even persistent drowsiness. If not taken care of, these symptoms can even cause a coma in a span of 24-48 hours. There are many patients who show neurological, respiratory and pulmonary signs as well. Therefore, do not ignore any such signs.
Some common signs and symptoms of NiV are headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and mental issues such as confusion. These symptoms can last up to 7-10 days. Watching out for respiratory illness during the early stages is also a must.
How Nipah Virus can diagnose?
Initial signs and symptoms of NiV infection are non-specific and the diagnosis is often not suspected at the time of presentation. This can hinder accurate diagnosis and creates challenges in outbreak detection and institution of effective and timely infection control measures and outbreak response activities.
In addition, clinical sample quality, quantity, type, the timing of collection and the time necessary to transfer samples from patients to the laboratory can affect the accuracy of laboratory results.
NiV infection can be diagnosed together with clinical history during the acute and convalescent phase of the disease. Main tests including real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) from bodily fluids as well as antibody detection via ELISA. Different tests include:
- enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
- polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay
- ·virus isolation by cell culture.
How is the Nipah Virus prevented or treated?
Since drinking raw date palm sap bitten by a bat can also cause NiV, it is safe to say that you should stay from consuming date palm for some time. Hospitals also need to raise awareness about symptoms and transmission to avoid human-to-human infections in such settings. Detection is another issue with NiV and anyone who feels the symptoms should get tested thoroughly from a recognized facility.
Avoiding direct contact with infected pigs, bats and humans in endemic regions should be practiced. Health professionals attending to such patients should take precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and gloves. If you feel uneasiness when in and around an infected region, get yourself tested immediately!
Some Key facts
- Nipah virus is an RNA virus that is part of the Paramyxovidae family that was first identified as a zoonotic pathogen after an outbreak involving severe respiratory illness in pigs and encephalitic disease in humans in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999.
- The virus can cause a range of mild to severe disease in domestic animals such as pigs.
- Nipah virus infection in humans causes a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection (subclinical) to acute respiratory infection and fatal encephalitis.
- Nipah virus can be transmitted to humans from animals (bats, pigs), and can also be transmitted directly from human-to-human.
- Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural host of Nipah virus.
- There is no treatment or vaccine available for either people or animals. The primary treatment for humans is supportive care.
- Nipah virus is on the WHO list of Blueprint priority diseases