The entire nation in general and the state of Kerala in particular is on high alert following the outbreak of the Nipah virus infection in the state. This deadly disease has already claimed the lives of 10 people in the state, including that of a nurse who was exposed to the virus while tending to an infected patient. The Nipah virus has a mortality rate of 70 percent, making its containment a top priority for the government. Here are some important details regarding this virus.
What is Nipah Virus?
Nipah virus (NiV) is newly-emerging zoonosis, i.e. a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans, and causes severe disease in both. It belongs to genus called Henipavirus. Named after the Kampung Sungai Nipah village in Malaysia, where it was first identified in 1998, it affects the brain of a person. In 2004, some people in Bangladesh got infected with this virus after consuming palm sap contaminated by fruit bats.
Which animals can spread this disease?
According to WHO, the natural hosts of this virus are the fruit bats, also known as the flying fox bats, belonging to the Pteropodidae family. Pigs can also act as intermediate hosts.
How is this disease transmitted?
Some of the ways in which this disease spreads are:
• Consumption of fruits or berries contaminated by infected bats
• Direct contact with infested pigs and bats
• Contact with other NiV infected people and/or their bodily fluids like saliva
What are the symptoms of Nipah Virus Infection?
The symptoms of NiV are similar to those of any viral infection, including:
Vomiting and nausea
Reduced level of consciousness
How is Nipah virus infection diagnosed?
NiV can be diagnosed by conducting a few tests. They are:
Histopathology: a detailed, microscopic study of tissues
Serology: blood tests to view the antibodies
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction): to detect the presence of viral DNA
Serum Neutralization Test: to evaluate levels of protective antibodies in a patient’s serum
Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA): a technique for detecting and establishing the levels of substances like proteins, antibodies and hormones
What is the treatment for this infection?
Currently, there is no vaccination or a cure of a permanent nature to combat this virus. Intensive supportive care is the primary treatment for this disease. Ribavarin, an anti-viral drug used in treatment of Hepatitis C may have some effect on this disease.
What precautions need to be taken for preventing this disease?
• Avoid consumption of fruits and berries which are left over after being bitten by bats and other animals.
• Avoid consumption of palm sap or toddy collected from areas where fruit bats are found.
• Infected individuals need to be hospitalized and isolated immediately.
• Keep water sources clean and covered.