Are you wondering what the Nipah virus is? Nipah is a zoonotic virus. It is mainly transmitted from animals to humans. The virus was discovered in Malaysia in the year 1999. At least 300 people contracted the virus during that outbreak, and more than 100 died.
The latest appearance of the virus was in 2018 in India. Where 17 out of 18 people infected died. It should be noted that the natural host of the Nipah virus is flying foxes. That is fruit bats, infecting humans, cats, dogs, pigs, horses, goats, and sheep.
This virus can present itself in infected individuals in various ways. These can range from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infection and lethal encephalitis.
The World Health Organization indicates that this virus has a case fatality rate estimated between 40% and 75%. The virus transmits through direct contact, either with the infected animal, person, or contaminated food.
Given this, the Indian state of Kerala is in a state of alert after a 12-year-old boy died from the rare virus last Sunday. This forced the health authorities to start tracing the people who were in contact with the child to isolate them and avoid a possible massive outbreak.
What are the Symptoms of the Nipah Virus?
The incubation period ranges from 4 to 14 days. However, there have been cases where incubation took up to 45 days, according to WHO. Typical symptoms of the virus include:
- Muscle aches
- Dizziness of throat
- Alteration of consciousness
To date, there are no drugs or vaccines capable of defeating this virus. Therefore, all that can be done for the time being is to take the best possible care of the patient, relieve pain and treat symptoms as they occur.
Asia Fears the Nipah Virus
As coronavirus cases worldwide grow and there is little certainty about when it will end, the Thai Red Cross Center for Health Sciences and Emerging Infectious Diseases warned about the development of the Nipah virus in Asia and its possible spread across the globe.
Nipah is related to the Hendra virus. It was a zoonosis in Malaysia in 1998, whose primary transmission vector is fruit bats. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is one of the ten most dangerous diseases in epidemic potential.
The disease goes through fluids such as saliva and blood. There is no preventive vaccine. Therefore, physicians can only deal with symptomatic treatment. The mortality rate is very high, over 70 percent.
One of the major concerns is the long incubation period of the disease. This can be up to 45 days and the possibility of the infected person spreading it unknowingly.
Moderna Biotech announced that it is using messenger mRNA technology to develop new vaccines for the Nipah virus.
Nipah Virus Around the World
Outside the areas where it is endemic, India and Southeast Asia, it is not a cause for concern. It is not alarming in this area, but it puts the health authorities on their guard: 17 people died from it last year. The virus’s natural host is a fruit bat of the Pteropodidae family, but it can reach humans through other animals, such as pigs, or even food. The human-to-human transmission also occurs.
The virus commonly circulates among large fruit bats populations in many areas of Asia. Outbreaks traditionally occur within the “Nipah belt,” which runs along Bangladesh’s western border with India. However, outbreaks in humans would only occur where there is a possible transmission route from bats to humans. Thus, the risk is not so much limited by geography as by human behavior.
Studies and Prevention
Like other pathologies in a similar context, interest and investment in research on this disease are limited. This has to do with epidemiologically; it does not yet generate significant impacts on health systems.
Meanwhile, the prudent mechanism to avoid the transmission of Nipah is to change the habits of those who live in areas prone to contracting the virus, especially those who live with fruit bats daily.
For example, the habit of fruit consumption should change. It is imperative that when people find food that has already been bitten, they don’t consume it. In the case of Bangladesh, people living in Bangladesh should be careful with the food consumed in the streets.
A researcher has identified an area of concern in Cambodia where fruit bats and other animals constantly contact humans. They are is specifically the Battambang market. This is a sector where she has seen a high exposure to these animals, especially food consumption. It is therefore considered that this type of interaction is a “high-risk exchange.” Also, it can produce contagion, and eventually, “this type of exposure could cause the virus to mutate, which could cause a pandemic.”
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The Bottom Line
Recently, the Nipah virus has appeared in the mainstream press because of an active outbreak in Kerala (India) in May 2018. Researchers discovered the virus in a village in Malaysia, Kampung Sungai Nipah. Since then, there have been small outbreaks in Bangladesh. The news about the virus is alarming because of its high case fatality rate – higher than that of coronavirus – due to the severe clinical picture it produces, estimated to be between 40% and 75%.
Fruit bats or flying foxes of the family Pteropodidae, genus Pteropus, are the reservoir of the Nipah virus and pigs act as an intermediate host. Although it is an ancient virus, the changing environment with increasing deforestation of their habitat causes the bats to move to suburban and urban areas to nest in trees. Climate change is also a cause of expanding the geographic areas suitable for bat species that host the Nipah virus. If there are no precautions taken, we might be facing a new pandemic shortly.