According to World Health Organization (WHO), Nipah Virus (NiV) infection is a newly emerging zoonosis (the disease is directly transmitted from animals to humans through media such as air or through bites and saliva) that causes severe disease in both animals and humans. The natural host of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus. Nipah virus infection gets its name from the village in Malaysia where the person from whom the virus was first isolated succumbed to death.
How does Nipah Virus get transmitted?
It spreads through ‘flying foxes’ or fruit bats, who are natural reservoir hosts of the Nipah and Hendra virus. It gets transmitted when someone comes in contact with bat urine and potentially, bat faeces, saliva, and birthing fluids.
In Bangladesh and India, there have been reports of possible human-to-human transmission of the disease, with as many as ten people having died due to Nipah infection in Kerala. A 28 year old nurse, Lini, too contracted the disease and later succumbed to it. Therefore, precautions are necessary for hospital workers in charge of taking care of the infected patients. Precautions should also be taken when submitting and handling laboratory samples, as well as in slaughterhouses.
Human infection has symptoms similar to an encephalitic syndrome which is marked by fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion which could lead to coma and potentially be fatal. During the outbreak in Malaysia, about 50% of those who were infected died of it.
While there is no specific treatment for Nipah Virus, the primary treatment for human cases is primary intensive care.
While there is no vaccination available for Nipah virus yet, preventive measures could be taken to control the infection from spreading. Farm animals should be prevented from eating fruits which may have been infected by fruit bats, the carriers of this virus. Consumption of contaminated date palm sap including toddy should also be avoided.
Doctors and medical staff attending to patients suspected or confirmed of having contracted the virus should take basic precautions like washing hands, using a gown, cap mask and wearing gloves. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus in swine populations, mass culling of seropositive animals may be necessary.