What is Nipah Virus?
● It is a contagious and deadly virus which was first identified in Malaysia in 1999.
● The virus figures in the WHO’s list of 10 priority pathogens needing urgent research.
● The virus is an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus and mutates very fast.
● The death rate from the Nipah virus is estimated to be about 70%.
● During 2007 outbreak in Nadia, West Bengal, after the first patient got infected, the virus generally spread among close contacts and caregivers. A similar pattern is observed in the current outbreak.
How does the virus spread?
● Nipah spreads from fruit bats to humans and other animals, mainly through bat dropping or bodily remains and then spreads laterally within a species.
● But less than 1% of the fruit bats are estimated be infected with Nipah virus and it is even rarer for it to infect humans.
● It is indeed highly contagious within humans, and the current episode in Kerala even killed a nurse who was treating another Nipah patient.
● The disease has a high mortality rate, but experts stress that there is no reason to panic because Nipah outbreaks have always been generally localised.
What are the symptoms?
● The classical symptom is acute and rapidly progressive encephalitis (brain inflammation and pain) with or without respiratory involvement.
● Other more noticeable symptoms include non-productive cough during the early part of the disease.
● Nipah encephalitis comes with 3-14 days of fever and headache, followed by drowsiness, disorientation and mental confusion.
● Acute encephalitis progresses to coma within 24-48 hours.
What are the major causes of the outbreak?
● According to a WHO report, a major cause of the outbreak of bat-related viral infections is the loss of bat’s natural habitats due to increasing urbanization.
● Loss of natural habitats forces bats to move near urban areas.
● According to a study in Malaysia, rapid urbanization leading to the destruction of bat-rich rainforests contributed to the outbreak of Nipah virus.
● Nipah virus infection generally has a stuttering chain of transmission.
● Once the virus moves from bats to humans it generally spreads to people in close contact with the patients.
How can the spread of Nipah virus be contained?
● Virologists working on the ground have asserted that early diagnosis has helped in containing the spread in the current case.