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What is the Nipah virus? Causes, symptoms, prevention

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | September 18th, 2021

Healthcare experts are concerned about the double blow that Kerala is facing. As the state continues to log high Covid-19 numbers, the Nipah virus claimed several lives and many others are under observation. Experts said it is time for Mumbai and Maharashtra, to be alert, especially during the festive season.

Dr. Wiqar Shaikh, professor of Medicine, Grant Medical College and Sir J.J. Group of Hospitals said that the Nipah Virus (NiV) was first discovered in 1999 following an outbreak of the disease in pigs and human beings in Malaysia and Singapore, resulting in 300 human cases and more than 100 deaths. At least 1 million pigs were then killed to help control the outbreak. Since then, NiV outbreaks have been recorded annually in Bangladesh and India. The first case of NiV was detected in Siliguri in 2001 when 45 people died due to the outbreak.

What is the Nipah virus?

Dr. Bipin Jibhkate, Consultant critical care medicine, and ICU director Wockhardt Hospital say NiV, a “growing concern”, is a zoonotic virus, which means that it spreads from animals to human beings. Fruit bats can spread NiV to pigs and then to human beings through pig saliva or urine. NiV could also be transferred to human beings through infected fruits.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Dr. Jibhkate says common symptoms include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, vomiting, and difficulty in breathing. Severe symptoms could be a stiff neck, sensitivity to light, confusion, and seizures. He also recommends a thorough check-up to avoid any overlaps with Covid-19 symptoms and seeking immediate consultation.

Who are at risk?

Being in close contacts with infected animals like bats, pigs or even infected humans can raise one’s risk of getting infected with the virus, says Dr. Jibhkate. He adds that people of any age group can get infected with the Nipah virus, especially, those who work in close proximity with animals like pigs.

While there is no fixed rate of transmissibility of the virus, Dr. Jibhkate says people who come in contact with the body fluids (blood, urine, or saliva) of an infected patient could contract the virus.

What is the primary course of treatment?

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for NiV and is limited to supportive care, symptomatic treatment, rest, and hydration, says Dr. Jibhkate. Dr. Shaikh says there may be long-term effects in survivors such as persistent fits and personality changes. Health authorities across India especially in Mumbai and Maharashtra should be alert due to the ongoing festive season, he added.

“Need to be vigilant to prevent an outbreak of NiV in the country, city, and state as it would be disastrous, with Covid-19 already causing havoc.”

“Nipah can also cause encephalitis. Approximately 20 percent of patients are reported to have neurological consequences such as seizure disorder and personality changes,” said Dr. Santosh Bansode, head of the department, Emergency Medicine, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central.

“There are currently no studies on viral persistence in bodily fluids or the environment including fruits. Human to human transmission of the Nipah virus is noted among family and caregivers of infected patients. The interval from infection to the onset of symptoms is believed to be from 4 to 14 days. However, the period of 45 days is also reported in some cases. The case fatality rate is 40 percent to 75 percent,” said Dr. Bansode.

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