Deaths in Kerala’s Kozhikode district are being attributed to ‘Nipah’ virus.
Deaths in Kerala’s Kozhikode district are being attributed to ‘Nipah’ virus.(Photo: iStockphoto)
  • 1. What is Nipah Virus?
  • 2. What Are the Symptoms?
  • 3. Why Has Nipah Virus Emerged?
  • 4. How Do We Keep Ourselves Safe
Nipah Virus in Parts of Kerala: What Is It? Should We Worry?

The latest test results done after the Nipah virus scare have ruled out bats being behind the spread of virus that took 16 lives in Kerala. A total of 21 samples from bats and pigs were sent to a laboratory in Bhopal but all turned out negative according to the results, officials said.

Kerala Health Ministry, in a statement, said the Nipah virus is only a “local occurrence” and not a major outbreak. The Union Health Minister had earlier sent a team from National Centre for Disease Control to investigate and offer assistance to the local administration.

The deaths were attributed to Nipah virus after testing at National Institute of Virology in Pune. The epicentre is at Perambra, about 40 km from Kozhikode.

  • 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, Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan of Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy says,

    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 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 became 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 current outbreak in Kerala, Nipah virus or NiV had infected 477 people and killed 252.

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