The recent speculation about the spread of the Nipah virus in a Southern State in India has surely brought jittery feelings among everyone. In this article, I will take you through the Nipah virus, its mode of transmission, symptoms, precautionary measures, and treatment.
Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus that belongs to the family of viruses called Paramyxoviridae and genus Henipavirus. It is capable of spreading from an infected animal to a person and is mainly transmitted from the Fruit bats which are also known as flying foxes. These Nipah viruses are transmissible to pigs and human beings and can cause infection in them. It causes mild to severe illness, encephalitis, and may sometimes be fatal. Avoiding contact with fruit bats and pigs, drinking raw date palm sap, and consuming fruits infected with fruit bats help in preventing the Nipah virus infection.
Origin and Outbreaks of Nipah Virus:
An infection due to the Nipah virus was first reported in a village called Sungai Nipah in Malaysia in September 1998. Hence, it got its name from the location. It was seen among the farmers working in the pig farming industry. Later, in December 1998 the second and third outbreaks occurred in Malaysia which then spread to Singapore in February 1999. In India, outbreaks were seen in January 2001 and 2007 in West Bengal and during May 2018 and 2019 in Kerala. Sporadic outbreaks of the virus were also seen in Bangladesh in April 2001. The recent outbreak of the Nipah virus has been reported in Kerala in September 2021.
Hosts of Nipah Virus:
It is a newly emerging zoonosis, meaning, it spreads from animals to humans. The hosts are fruit bats (Pteropus genus), birds, and domestic animals such as horses, goats, dogs, cats, and pigs.
Transmission of the Nipah virus from animals to humans is possible through the following routes:
Direct contact with the body fluids like blood, urine, or saliva of an infected animal.
Consuming fruits that have been infected by the fruit bats or pigs.
In addition to the above, human-to-human transmission can also occur through close contact with the infected person or the body fluids of an infected person like urine, blood, or respiratory air droplets.
Symptoms start to appear after 4 to 14 days of exposure to the virus.Although the symptoms resemble that of flu, it also produces serious symptomswhich include respiratory illnesses, encephalitis, and death in a few cases.
The serious symptoms include disorientation, mental confusion, and loss of consciousness, which eventually leads to coma in about one to two days and death. The virus can cause death anywhere between two to seven days after the onset of symptoms and the mortality rate is approximately 75%. In a few, death occurs months or years after exposure to the virus and this is called dormant or latent infection.
Diagnosis of the Nipah virus can be done either during the illness or after recovering. During active infection, it is diagnosed by real time-Polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test taken from nasal swab, throat swab, blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid. After recovery, antibody testing like Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) helps in its diagnosis.
Symptomatic diagnosis of the infection is hard as the symptoms are not specific. It is important to look for constant symptoms in an area where Nipah virus infection is common because early diagnosis helps in increasing the rate of survival, preventing the spread of the virus, and taking efforts to stop community spread.
There is no vaccine found yet for this disease, nor is there any known treatment as of now although research is ongoing. Only supportive care like rest, hydration, etc., are provided to give relief from the symptoms. This makes taking precautionary measures of paramount importance.
Drinking raw date palm sap is to be avoided in endemic areas.
Avoid eating fruits that are half bitten or possibly contaminated by the urine or saliva of bats.
People working in close contact with susceptible animal hosts should take adequate preventive measures like wearing gloves, masks, and washing their hands properly.
Healthcare professionals are advised to wear protective masks and gloves when caring for patients.
Persons suspected to be carrying the Nipah virus are to be isolated at special wards in hospitals.
Avoid making contact with the patient.
Doctors, nurses, and veterinary doctors are highly susceptible to get this virus from exposure to infected cases and are advised to be alert.
Practicing regular handwashing with soap and water in susceptible areas is recommended.
The blood samples collected from suspected persons are to be tested in specially designated accredited laboratories to prevent their spread in the community through improper handling of specimens.
Pigs are the vulnerable animal hosts of the Nipah virus which are infectious between 4 to 14 days (incubation period). The symptoms include fever, labored breathing, and nervous system problems like muscle spasms, twitching, and trembling.In dogs, the Nipah virus has an increased mortality rate and causes distemper-like syndrome.
Since the Nipah virus has the potential for a major outbreak, and treatment protocols are still being formulated, the general public is cautioned to be alert and careful about their health in order to control the transmission of infection at this initial stage itself.
Nipah virus (NiV) is a type of RNA virus that belongs to the family Paramyxoviridae and genus Henipavirus. It is a zoonotic virus, meaning it is transmitted to humans from animals. This virus commonly infects pigs, fruit bats, and rabbits, but they might not show symptoms of this infection
In the early stages, it causes symptoms like a cold and flu like fever, headache, cough, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting, and sore throat. Later, when the neurological system gets involved, the symptoms of encephalitis, like dizziness, confusion, altered consciousness, and coma are seen.
Currently, there is no vaccine available to prevent this infection. Few tips to prevent Nipah virus infections are:
- Avoid exposure to infected pigs and bats.
- Avoid drinking raw date palm sap.
- Proper and frequent cleaning and disinfection of pig farms.
- Culling of infected animals.
- Healthcare professionals should wear protective clothing while treating an infected patient.
- Proper burial or incineration of carcasses.
- During an outbreak, animal premises should be quarantined.
Nipah virus is transmitted to humans through direct contact with infected bats, pigs, or other animals. You can also get infected through person-to-person contact or by consuming raw date palm sap or other food items contaminated with the feces of infected animals.
Nipah virus infection can be asymptomatic, meaning, it does not cause any symptoms. Or it can be an acute respiratory infection, and encephalitis, which can be fatal.
Yes, Nipah virus is a contagious disease as it can spread from direct or close contact
According to WHO (World Health Organization), the fatality rate is 40 to 75%. The survival rate depends on the clinical management capabilities of healthcare professionals. Individuals who survive this disease develop problems like seizures, personality changes, or develop encephalitis.
As it a fragile virus, it cannot survive for long outside the host body. It is believed to survive from some hours to a couple of days in the air.
Yes, Nipah virus can spread through contaminated water. Water can get contaminated with feces of infected animals or saliva or other body secretions of an infected human
Fruits that have been bitten or contaminated by an infected bat or pig has the virus in them. Consuming such fruits can infect you
The first outbreak of this disease was noted in 1998 in a village called Sungai Nipah, Malaysia, and the virus was isolated in 1999. It was believed to be transmitted to humans through infected pigs, which led to millions of pigs being killed to stop the spread of the infection
Nipah virus can spread through:
- Contact with sick pigs or other infected animals and their secretions.
- Eating fruits or fruit products contaminated with urine or saliva of infected fruit bats.
- If you come in contact of nasal or oral secretions from an infected patient.
Last reviewed at:
07 Sep 2021 - 4 min read
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