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Explainer: What is Nipah Virus? How Can You Keep Yourself Safe

Symptoms of nipah virus range from fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, coma, and death.

Updated
Health News
3 min read
The Kerala Health Department has initiated precautionary measures to deal with the possible outbreak of Nipah virus.
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Snapshot

After much speculation, the Kerala government has confirmed Nipah virus in the 23-year-old man who had been admitted to a private hospital in Ernakulam on May 30, says the Kerala government. The confirmation came in from the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune.

The Kerala government has asked people not to panic and stay alert.

Here’s all you need to know about Nipah virus and how you can stay safe.

Explainer: What is Nipah Virus? How Can You Keep Yourself Safe

  1. 1. What is Nipah Virus?

    According to the World Health Organisation, Nipah virus or NiV infection is a newly emerging infectious disease that causes severe illness in both animals and humans. The natural host of the Nipah virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus.

    Nipah virus is fairly new. The virus was first identified in 1998 in Malaysia and pigs were identified as the intermediate host. It spread to humans after they came in contact with pig feces and excretions. Nipah virus gets it’s name from the village where the virus was first spotted. The virus has also been found in species of domestic animals including dogs, cats, goats, horses and sheep after they came in contact with pigs.

    Speaking to FIT earlier, Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan of Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy had said,

    Bats and humans share a lot of common diseases. And another species that shares a lot of common diseases with humans is pigs. In the first instance, the disease traveled from bats to pigs and pigs became the intermediate source carrying the disease to us.  

    Later Nipah virus had showed up in Bangladesh in 2004, where humans became infected with NiV as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats.

    There have been cases of human-to-human transmission in hospital settings including in India. The Nipah virus was first reported in India’s Siliguri district in 2001. Of the 66 cases, 45 people lost their lives.  

    During the outbreak, 33 health workers and hospital visitors had become ill after exposure to patients. If there is any silver lining at all, it’s that human-to-human transmission weakens after a while.

    While there have been cases of human to human transmission, the outbreak is usually not sustained for a long time. So the epidemic will die out. But I won’t be surprised if it pops up in other parts of Kerala because the host fruit bats are everywhere.
    Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan

    Before the 2018 outbreak in Kerala, Nipah virus or NiV had infected 477 people and killed 252.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Are the Nipah Virus Symptoms?

    Symptoms of Nipah virus range from asymptomatic to fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion, and coma. Earlier, officials in Kerala had said that the mortality rate was nearly 70 percent.

    In Malaysia where the disease was first spotted, 50 percent of patients who showed symptoms died. In Bangladesh the death toll was also 70 percent.

    Treatment is focused on managing fever and neurological symptoms and offering full support.

    It’s a virus, and like any other virus you can only manage the symptoms. These are new emerging diseases and it will take us time to understand them. 
    Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan
    Expand
  3. 3. Why Has Nipah Virus Emerged?

    Epidemiologists attribute the emergence of this type of virus to the loss of the natural habitat of bats. According to the WHO fact sheet on the Nipah virus, this loss results in bats getting stressed and hungry, their immune system gets weaker, their virus load goes up and a lot of virus spills out in their urine and saliva.

    Fruit bats are common carriers of Nipah virus.
    Fruit bats are common carriers of Nipah virus.
    (Photo:WikimediaCommons)
    We forget that we are all interlinked. Most diseases first emerge in animals. It is only after they’ve gone through them that they travel to humans. Ebola first emerged in Gorillas. Unless we learn from our mistakes, we stop destroying their habitat these viruses will keep emerging.
    Expand
  4. 4. How Do We Keep Ourselves Safe

    • Fruit bats are everywhere. They are crucial to our eco system since they kill mosquitoes. So the epidemic may occur in other parts in future.
    • It’s important to recognise what the disease is, isolate the patient and give them full support.
    • Health workers have to be particularly careful and follow all precautions.
    • For the time being, if you are in the nearby region where the epidemic has occurred, avoid palm tap and pork, keep your environment clean and spread awareness.

    (Have you subscribed to FIT’s newsletter yet? Click here and get health updates directly in your inbox.)

    (Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

    Expand

What is Nipah Virus?

According to the World Health Organisation, Nipah virus or NiV infection is a newly emerging infectious disease that causes severe illness in both animals and humans. The natural host of the Nipah virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus.

Nipah virus is fairly new. The virus was first identified in 1998 in Malaysia and pigs were identified as the intermediate host. It spread to humans after they came in contact with pig feces and excretions. Nipah virus gets it’s name from the village where the virus was first spotted. The virus has also been found in species of domestic animals including dogs, cats, goats, horses and sheep after they came in contact with pigs.

Speaking to FIT earlier, Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan of Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy had said,

Bats and humans share a lot of common diseases. And another species that shares a lot of common diseases with humans is pigs. In the first instance, the disease traveled from bats to pigs and pigs became the intermediate source carrying the disease to us.  

Later Nipah virus had showed up in Bangladesh in 2004, where humans became infected with NiV as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats.

There have been cases of human-to-human transmission in hospital settings including in India. The Nipah virus was first reported in India’s Siliguri district in 2001. Of the 66 cases, 45 people lost their lives.  

During the outbreak, 33 health workers and hospital visitors had become ill after exposure to patients. If there is any silver lining at all, it’s that human-to-human transmission weakens after a while.

While there have been cases of human to human transmission, the outbreak is usually not sustained for a long time. So the epidemic will die out. But I won’t be surprised if it pops up in other parts of Kerala because the host fruit bats are everywhere.
Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan

Before the 2018 outbreak in Kerala, Nipah virus or NiV had infected 477 people and killed 252.

What Are the Nipah Virus Symptoms?

Symptoms of Nipah virus range from asymptomatic to fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion, and coma. Earlier, officials in Kerala had said that the mortality rate was nearly 70 percent.

In Malaysia where the disease was first spotted, 50 percent of patients who showed symptoms died. In Bangladesh the death toll was also 70 percent.

Treatment is focused on managing fever and neurological symptoms and offering full support.

It’s a virus, and like any other virus you can only manage the symptoms. These are new emerging diseases and it will take us time to understand them. 
Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan
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Why Has Nipah Virus Emerged?

Epidemiologists attribute the emergence of this type of virus to the loss of the natural habitat of bats. According to the WHO fact sheet on the Nipah virus, this loss results in bats getting stressed and hungry, their immune system gets weaker, their virus load goes up and a lot of virus spills out in their urine and saliva.

Fruit bats are common carriers of Nipah virus.
Fruit bats are common carriers of Nipah virus.
(Photo:WikimediaCommons)
We forget that we are all interlinked. Most diseases first emerge in animals. It is only after they’ve gone through them that they travel to humans. Ebola first emerged in Gorillas. Unless we learn from our mistakes, we stop destroying their habitat these viruses will keep emerging.
ADVERTISEMENT

How Do We Keep Ourselves Safe

  • Fruit bats are everywhere. They are crucial to our eco system since they kill mosquitoes. So the epidemic may occur in other parts in future.
  • It’s important to recognise what the disease is, isolate the patient and give them full support.
  • Health workers have to be particularly careful and follow all precautions.
  • For the time being, if you are in the nearby region where the epidemic has occurred, avoid palm tap and pork, keep your environment clean and spread awareness.

(Have you subscribed to FIT’s newsletter yet? Click here and get health updates directly in your inbox.)

(Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

ADVERTISEMENT
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