Explainer: What Is Nipah Virus, How Does It Affect As Kerala Conducts Mass Testing After Outbreak

Since the outbreak of the Nipah virus in Kerala’s Kozhikode district earlier this month, at least six people have died, and many are battling the deadly viral infection. According to experts, Nipah has no cure, so prevention has to be taken to avoid more casualties. Even though the government has taken measures to contain the spread of the zoonotic virus which spreads through bats, and pigs and is highly contagious, WHO says the fatality rate is between 40-75 per cent.

Updated Sep 18, 2023 | 03:56 PM IST

nipah virus

Nipah virus has a fatality rate between 40-75 per cent

New Delhi: Authorities in Kerala have begun mass testing to stop the outbreak and spread of the deadly and dangerous Nipah virus, a rare but serious bat-borne disease that can cause fever, vomiting, and respiratory infections in humans after six people were killed and many more infected.
The state administration has curbed public gatherings and schools have been shut indefinitely since last week, as this fourth outbreak in the last five years has laid out fear and panic among the residents of Kozhikode, the hotbed of Nipah.
According to the World Health Organisation, the virus has a fatality rate between 40-75 per cent, and has no known vaccine, and the usual treatment is to provide supportive care.

What is the Nipah virus?

The first Nipah outbreak was documented in 1998 after the virus spread among pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore. The virus is named after the village where it was discovered.
Experts say Nipah infects humans directly through contact with the bodily fluids of infected bats and pigs, with some documented cases of transmission among humans. The fruit bats urinate and contaminate fruits that people eat and get the virus, making them sick, and even causing fatalities. 1
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Nipah virus is zoonotic and its infection is associated with encephalitis or brain swelling.
Outbreaks occur annually in many parts of Asia, primarily Bangladesh and India.

What does Nipah do to humans?

Not only is the virus deadly to humans, but doctors also say since there is no treatment, the only way to escape is to manage the outbreak by containing it.
In Kerala currently, according to the state government statistics, nearly 1,233 people are on the contact list, of whom 352 fall into the high-risk category and 881 are health workers.
Even though no one in the high-risk group is currently showing symptoms, they have been quarantined to further prevent any untoward incident.
Authorities say at least 13 people are currently hospitalized for observation and are showing mild symptoms like headache and fever.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of Nipah usually begin within four to 14 days after exposure to the virus. It is common to have a fever or headache first and develop respiratory problems like cough and difficulty breathing later.
Initial symptoms of the Nipah virus may include:
  • Mild fever which can worsen with time
  • Headache
  • Breathlessness
  • Cough and sore throat.
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue and severe weakness.
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Respiratory issues that keep worsening
Even though scientists have not been able to find out why some people have severe symptoms and others have mild symptoms, many believe it is deadlier in people with less immunity.

How does Nipah transmission occur and spread?

In the first-ever Nipah outbreak in 1998 nearly 100 people died in Malaysia, and the government culled one million pigs in an effort to contain the virus. The first case happened when people who were in contact with infected pigs began getting very sick. Researchers then determined bats were the original source, having passed the virus to pigs.
If an infected bat or pig spreads its bodily fluid to another animal, it infects that animal. The same happens if people are in contact with the bodily fluid of the animal. This could be from pee, poop, blood or saliva. Once a person has the virus, they can spread it to other people through their own bodily fluids.
People who regularly climb trees where bats sleep and rest have also been infected by the Nipah virus.
The virus is also airborne and spreads through respiratory droplets. This means it can spread through the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

Prevention and treatment

Since there are no antiviral medications that work to treat the infected, experts believe it is best to manage your symptoms, like:
  • Drinking water
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Taking ibuprofen for body pain
  • Taking medicines to control nausea
  • Using nebulizers to control breathing problems
Harvard Health says the following precautions should be taken to avoid getting the viral infection:
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Avoid contact with sick pigs or bats
  • Clean and disinfect pig farms
  • Do not venture into forests and eat wild fruits
  • Avoid trees or bushes where bats are known to rest or sleep.
  • Throw away any fruit with bat bites
  • Avoid contact with the saliva, blood, or other bodily fluids of a person with the virus
  • Quarantine the infected people
  • Use of medical gloves and masks when taking care of the sick
  • Using eye protection like safety glasses
Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.
End of Article