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Nipah virus infection: 10 facts

Published on Tue 12 Sep 2023 at 10:40

It’s important to be informed about the infection; don’t be swayed by fear mongering and misinformation.

By First Check team

Nipah virus infection is suspected to be the cause of two recent deaths due to fever in Kozhikode, Kerala. While the suspicion can only be confirmed once the test results from the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, are available, the Indian state is on alert. 

Kozhikode has witnessed two Nipah virus outbreaks in the past – in 2018 and 2021. A multi-disciplinary approach and robust public health response had ensured that the outbreak was limited within the state.

It’s important to be informed about the infection and not be swayed by fear mongering and misinformation. Here are 10 facts about the Nipah virus infection:

  1. The zoonotic virus (transmitted from animals to humans) was first recognised in 1999 during an outbreak in Malaysia. 
  2. Fruit bats, also called flying foxes, are the animal reservoir for Nipah virus. It is also known to cause illness in pigs and humans.
  3. In humans, the illness initially presents as fever and headache for up to two weeks, along with cough, sore throat, and difficulty in breathing.
  4. Brain swelling (encephalitis) may follow, where symptoms can include drowsiness, disorientation, and mental confusion. This can rapidly progress to coma within 24-48 hours.
  5. Infections that lead to symptoms and sometimes death much later after exposure (known as dormant or latent infections) have also been reported months and even years after exposure.
  6. Most people who survive acute encephalitis make a full recovery, but long-term neurologic conditions, such as seizure disorder and personality changes, have been reported in some survivors.  
  7. During early stages of the illness, laboratory testing can be conducted using real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) from throat and nasal swabs, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, and blood. Later in the course of illness and after recovery, testing for antibodies is conducted using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
  8. Currently, there are no licensed treatments available for Nipah virus infection. Treatment is limited to supportive care, including rest, hydration, and management of symptoms.
  9. Also, there are no vaccines available against Nipah virus. The only way to reduce or prevent infection in people is by raising awareness of the risk factors and educating people about the measures they can take to reduce exposure to the Nipah virus. 
  10. In areas where Nipah virus outbreaks have occurred, it’s prudent for people to practice handwashing regularly with soap and water; avoid contact with sick bats or pigs; avoid eating or drinking products that could be contaminated by bats; avoid contact with the blood or body fluids of any person known to be infected with the virus. 

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