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Nipah Virus: All You Need To Know About Nipah Virus And How To Prevent It

As death toll in Kerala because of Nipah virus rises, there is an increased concern about the infection. This infection has high fatality rate. The virus is mainly spread from pigs, bats and other animals. This is the first time that Nipah virus has been detected in Kerala. Following the increase in death toll because of the infection, the Union Health Ministry has sent a team of experts to Kerala in order to assist people who are struggling to cope with the outbreak.

Nipah virus infection is a disease which can be transferred to humans from animals. It can cause severe diseases to both animals and humans. Natural host of the virus is fruit bats of Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus. The outbreak of the disease was first reported in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia in 1998. Intermediate hosts of this instance were found to be pigs. There were no intermediate hosts found in subsequent outbreaks of the disease. It was in 2004 in Bangladesh that humans got infected with Nipah virus after eating date plam sap contaminated by infected fruit bats.

Transmission of Nipah virus takes place through direct contact with infected pigs, bats or other people infected with the virus. To prevent being infected by the virus, people should avoid consuming fruits that have fallen on the ground.

Cardiologist Dr Sameer Gupta says that Nipah virus causes a viral infection which can be transmitted from infected pigs and bats. “There are very rare cases of human to human transmission of Nipah virus,” he says.

Explaining some of the symptoms of the infection, he adds, “Nipah virus can cause fever, tiredness and also affect the brain. The virus has high mortality rate and is geographically limited as of now. It is only in Kerala and nearby places.”

Ask him about the treatment for the virus and he says that people infected with Nipah virus need supportive care treatment. “There are no anti-viral medicines for this disease. We are still learning about this new virus because its comparatively new and rare virus,” he says.

He says that preventive measures against Nipah virus should be staying away from animals and people infected with the virus. “The virus can spread by being exposed to infected animals. A person can get infected with Nipah virus by eating fruits which are exposed to excretion of infected animals. We have reports that people have fruits which have been infected by an infected virus,” says Dr Sameer.

Symptoms of Nipah virus

Other common symptoms of Nipah virus include acute respiratory syndrome, asymptomatic infection and fatal encephalitis. Nipah virus primarily causes encephalitic syndrome and has a high mortality rate. The virus causes multiple MRI abnormalities, including small asymmetric focal lesions in subcortical region. It also leads to deep white matter without surrounding edema.

Preventive measures

Incubation period of nipah virus is about 5 to 14 days. It is after this period of time that the symptoms become more visible. In some cases, symptoms of Nipah virus include stomach pain, choking, vomiting and blurred vision. A patient might possibly get into coma a few days after the symptoms begin. There are also high chances of contracting encephalitis which affects the brain.

To avoid being infected by the virus, avoid drinking toddy brewed in open containers near palm trees. Staying away from an infected person is important. You must maintain a distance from the patient and sanitise and wash your hands properly. Clean your clothes, utensils and bathroom items like mugs and buckets separately. Ensure that they are all maintained hygienically.

While carrying the dead body of anyone who dies of Nipah infection, it is important to cover your face properly.

Relatives or friends of the deceased person must try and avoid hugging or kissing the dead person. Take utmost care while bathing the dead body.

Currently, there are no vaccines available for Nipah virus. People infected with Nipah virus need intensive care. According to the World Heatlh Organization, Nipah virus can be prevented by avoiding exposure to sick pigs and bats in areas where the infection is endemic. The infection can be prevented by not consuming fruits which have fallen off from trees and not drinking sap of raw date palms.

(Dr Sameer Gupta is Interventional Cardiologist at Metro Hospital, Noida and MP Heart Clinic, Greater Kailash)