What Is Nipah Virus, causes, history and everything you should know

Kozhikode: Medical staff wear protective suit to avoid contacting Nipah virus that has claimed 12 lives in Kerala till now, in Kozhikode on May 25, 2018. (Photo: IANS)
A zoonotic virus meaning that which is transmitted from animals to humans, Nipah virus can also be passed on from one human to another through direct contact or through contaminated food. When Nipah virus infects people, it can cause a range of illnesses in infected persons. These symptoms can range from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory difficulties and encephalitis that can be fatal. This virus is also found to cause severe diseases in animals which would bring about big economic losses for those in farming.

There have been only a few known Nipah virus outbreaks in Asia. However, the fact that this virus infects a wide range of animals and causes severe illnesses and deaths to humans is a matter of big concern.

Nipah virus history

For the first time, Nipah virus was recognized in 1999 in pig farms located in Malaysia. Since 1999, there had not been other instances of Nipah virus outbreaks in Malaysia.

In Bangladesh, Nipah virus was recognized for the first time in 2001. Since then, there had been annual occurrences of Nipah virus outbreaks in that country. Periodical outbreaks of Nipah virus has been noted in eastern India also.

The bat species called as Pteropus have been identified as the natural reservoirs for Nipah virus. These species of bats are known to inhabit countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Ghana, Madagascar, and the Philippines. Hence these countries are said to be in the zones carrying a high risk of Nipah virus outbreaks.

Nipah virus and domestic animals

In 1999, Nipah virus outbreak was noted in pigs and other domestic animals like sheep, goats, cats, dogs and horses. In the case of pigs, this virus is highly contagious. Pigs carrying Nipah virus are found to be highly infectious during the incubation period. This can last from 4 to 14 days. If pigs are noticed with unusual kind of barking cough or spotted with human cases of encephalitis, Nipah virus can be suspected. If this happens, serious measures must be taken to stop the spread of this deadly virus.

Why is Nipah virus highly concerning?

The fatality rate of Nipah virus infection is found to be 40% to 75%. This rate can, however, differ depending on the capabilities of the medical facilities available locally to treat the affected patients. About 20% of the patients who get out of Nipah virus infections remain with residual neurological effects like personality changes and seizure complaints.

How WHO respond to Nipah virus?

WHO has been taking several serious measures to stop the outbreak and spread of Nipah virus besides exploring ways to treat the Nipah virus affected people.

WHO advice regarding the prevention of Nipah virus outbreak. There is a high risk of transmission of Nipah virus through the medium of fruits and fruit products like raw date palm juices contaminated with the saliva or urine of the infected fruit bats. This can be prevented by washing these products thoroughly before consumption. The other methods of preventing the Nipah virus spread is by peeling off these fruits and discarding the fruits that carry the signs of bat bites.
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