India is on high alert after the deadly Nipah virus (NiV or Henipavirus) claimed 11 lives in Kerala within just 48 hours, leaving another 25 people hospitalized with symptoms.
- Nipah is an infection that can be transmitted from animals, like fruit bats and pigs.
- Early symptoms start with fever and headache and can progress to coma within 24-48 hours.
- The mortality rate in India is 70%.
- There is no vaccination for the virus, primary treatment is intensive supportive care
How is the virus transmitted?
- Direct contact with infected animals, mainly the fruit bat (natural host), pigs and even domesticated animals
- By consuming fruits eaten by the infected animals
- Through contact with other Nipah infected people
What are the Symptoms?
Fever, headache, drowsiness, respiratory problems, confusion and disorientation have been reported as the main symptoms to look out for. The Nipah virus can lead to inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
Long-term effects in those affected have been noted, including persistent convulsions.
In some cases, latent infections and reactivation of the virus have led to deaths after months of exposure.
What to look out for
The Nipah virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days, and the early symptoms of fever and headache are mistaken for other illnesses, making it tough to diagnose.
People suspected of infection need to contain themselves in one location and avoid contact with other people, to reduce the chance of spreading the illness.
With Kerala on red alert, the neighbouring states need to take precautions to prevent the outbreak from spreading further.
Preventive measures against Nipah
- Avoid fruits bitten by birds and animals. Don’t consume fruits that have fallen from trees.
- Don’t drink water from wells where fruit bats are found in large numbers.
- Limit exposure to animals in endemic areas as they may be carriers of the virus.
- Use gloves and masks when you are in contact with other infected people.
Currently, there is no permanent treatment for Nipah so it’s important to practise preventive measure and keep yourself safe.
Nipah across the globe
The first case of Nipah was reported in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999, where the virus was contracted from exposure to sick pigs, infecting around 300 people, with over 100 deaths.
Another outbreak occurred in neighbouring Bangladesh in 2004, after people consumed the date palm sap which was contaminated with fruit bat urine or saliva, which lead to 50 deaths.
Previous outbreaks of Nipah in India were reported in Jan 2001, in Siliguri (WB), where 66 people were infected with the virus, leaving 45 dead. The virus showed up again in April 2007, in Nadia (WB), killing all 5 who were infected.
If you suspect you might be infected, or have early symptoms of Nipah, get yourself tested today.