Understanding the Nipah Virus: Origin, Transmission, Symptoms, and Treatment
History and Origin of the Nipah Virus
The Nipah virus, a disease known for its severe and often fatal consequences in humans, was first identified over two decades ago. It emerged from an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia, spreading to Singapore via infected pigs within a few months. This outbreak resulted in nearly 300 cases and over 100 fatalities. Since that initial outbreak, no other Nipah incidents have been reported in Malaysia. However, the virus reemerged in Bangladesh and India in 2001, where outbreaks have continued to occur periodically. In Bangladesh, outbreaks occur almost every year, and studies have linked infections to the consumption of fermented date palm sap contaminated with bat urine.
Mode of Transmission
Initially, it was believed that person-to-person transmission did not occur as no healthcare worker was infected during the large epidemic in Malaysia. However, subsequent outbreaks, including the current one in India, demonstrated person-to-person transmission, particularly when healthcare workers were treating infected people. In fact, a 2019 study of nearly 250 Nipah virus cases in Bangladesh over 14 years found that about a third of human infections were transmitted to other people.
Symptoms and Effects of the Virus
When the Nipah virus causes disease, it primarily results in encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. Patients often develop a fever and complain of an intense headache. Many also experience disorientation, drowsiness, and confusion. The virus is most dangerous when it leads to severe symptoms including seizures, encephalitis, or even progressing to a coma within 24 to 48 hours.
Treatment and Prevention Measures
To date, there are no specific drugs for the treatment of Nipah infection. Both ribavirin (used in conjunction with other drugs for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C) and monoclonal antibodies are under study, but their effectiveness in humans has not yet been demonstrated. An mRNA vaccine produced by Moderna in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, USA, is also in phase 1 testing.
Current Outbreak in Kerala, India
Kerala, a state in India, is currently facing a new outbreak of the Nipah virus. So far, two people have been reported dead and at least five have been infected. Schools in the affected Kozhikode district have been closed, several villages have been declared containment zones, and nearly 950 contacts have been identified, 213 of which are considered high risk. Despite the virus’s high fatality rate and no specific treatments available, experts have stated that it’s unlikely that the virus will lead to a global emergency. However, it’s a stark reminder of how habitat destruction has led to animals transmitting diseases to humans.
Subscribe to BNN Breaking
Sign up for our daily newsletter covering global breaking news around the world.