With a 22-year-old succumbing to the disease on Sunday (May 27), Nipah virus has so far claimed as many as 14 lives in India’s southern state Kerala.
What is Nipah virus?
According to World Health Organization (WHO), Nipah virus (NiV) infection is a “newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans”. It is a type of RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus in the genus Henipavirus.
How is it spread?
The natural host of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus, says WHO. On occasions, infected pigs and consumption of raw date palm sap (toddy) were also found to spread the virus. The Nipah virus can spread from animals to humans and/or humans to humans via direct contact with the infected one.
“NiV is also capable of causing disease in pigs and other domestic animals,” says WHO.
What are the symptoms?
Generally symptoms start showing within 3-14 days post exposure. Primary symptoms are breathing problem, fever, headache and drowsiness. Slowly as the condition worsens, symptoms like disorientation and mental confusion.
What are the complications?
Once the symptoms start showing, they deteriorate fast so much so that the patient may slip into coma within 24-48 hours. Inflammation of brain, encephalitis, is another complication associated with the disease.
“NiV infection in humans has a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis,” says WHO.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis is done at laboratories where real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) from throat swabs, cerebrospinal fluid, urine and blood analysis are done at acute and convalescent stages.
After recovery, IgG and IgM antibody tests are done to confirm Nipah virus attack.
During autopsy, Immunohistochemistry (IHC) of skeletal tissues are done to confirm the disease.
What is the course of treatment?
There is no effective treatment for Nipah virus infection. The available mode is based on supportive and symptomatic treatment. It is important that all affected patients are isolated. The doctors and nurses should also practice infection control and take measures accordingly as they are the most vulnerable in this case.
WHO says: “There is no vaccine for either humans or animals. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care.”
How can it be prevented?
1. Wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly in salt and turmeric water
2. Wash hands thoroughly with soap before eating or cooking
3. Don’t eat partly-eaten fruits or unpasteurized fruit juices
4. Make sure you boil freshly collected date palm juice before drinking
5. Peel fruits before eating
6. Use protection like NH95-grade and higher masks while interacting with infected people
7. Maintain personal hygiene
What are the previous outbreaks?
The first outbreak of NiV took place in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia in 1998. In 2004, Bangladesh came under Nipah virus attack.
Sreya is based in Kolkata. She is a Senior Editor of Big Wire.