Nipah virus is once again in the headlines as a 12-year-old boy died from the virus in the Kozhikode district of Kerala on Sunday morning. After the death of a young boy, Northern Kerala, including Malappuram, Kozhikode, and Kannur districts, are on high alert. 

The first case of the Nipah virus was detected in 2001 in West Bengal, then in 2007 in the same state. Following this, the virus was detected in the year 2018, in Kozhikode, spreading subsequently to Malappuram. In 2018, around 17 people died because of the virus. The latest case was reported in 2019 in the Ernakulam district.

What is Nipah Virus?

According to the official website of the World Health Organisation “Nipah Virus, aka NiV, is a zoonotic virus, it is transmitted from animals to humans and can also be transmitted through contaminated food. In infected people, it causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis.”

Nipah virus is responsible for various outbreaks in Asia as it infects a variety of animals and causes severe disease and death in humans, and this makes it a public concern.

Fruit bats of the family Pteropodidae – particularly species belonging to the Pteropus genus – are the natural hosts for the Nipah virus. 

From where the first case associated with the virus was reported and how it further transmitted? 

For the first time ever, the Nipah virus was found in Malaysia, during an outbreak among pig farmers, in 1999. At that time, the virus also affected Singapore. According to the WHO, “most human infections resulted from direct contact with sick pigs or their contaminated tissues. Transmission is thought to have occurred via unprotected exposure to secretions from the pigs, or unprotected contact with the tissue of a sick animal.” 

After Malaysia, it was reported in Bangladesh in 2001, and nearly annual outbreaks have occurred in that country because of the virus. The cases related to the virus have also been detected periodically in eastern India. As per the WHO in India and Bangladesh, the virus spread due to the consumption of fruits or fruit products (such as raw date palm juice) contaminated with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats. 

WHO further explained that during the later outbreaks in Bangladesh and India, the Nipah virus spread directly from human to human through close contact with people's secretions and excretions. 

In Siliguri, India in 2001, the transmission of the virus was also reported within a healthcare setting, where 75% of cases occurred among hospital staff or visitors. 

From 2001 to 2008, around half of reported cases in Bangladesh were due to human-to-human transmission through providing care to infected patients.

Also Read: Double whammy for Kerala: Amid rising covid cases, 12-year-old boy dies of Nipah virus

What are the signs and symptoms of the virus?

An infected person may witness a range from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infection (mild, severe), and fatal encephalitis.

WHO noted, “Infected people initially develop symptoms including fever, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting, and sore throat. This can be followed by dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness, and neurological signs that indicate acute encephalitis. Some people can also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress. Encephalitis and seizures occur in severe cases, progressing to coma within 24 to 48 hours. 

The incubation period is believed to range from 4 to 14 days. However, an incubation period as long as 45 days have been reported.” 

What treatment must be provided to the infected person?

For now, there is no treatment or vaccine for the Nipah virus. WHO recommends intensive supportive care to treat severe respiratory and neurologic complications.

How to prevent the Nipah virus?

WHO advises that in the absence of a vaccine, the only way to reduce or prevent infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to the Nipah virus.

Here are the preventions suggested by the National Centre for Disease Control:

  • Wash hands with soap and water after coming in contact with a sick person or animal.
  • Avoid consuming raw date palm sap or toddy.
  • Consume only washed fruits.
  • Avoid consuming half-eaten fruits from the ground.
  • Avoid entering into abandoned wells.
  • Handling of dead bodies should be done in accordance with the government advisory.

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