What The FAQ: What is the Nipah virus and how can you protect yourself from it?

The virus comes from fruit bats and is transmitted from human to animal. However, there is a possibility of a person-to-person through respiratory droplets of an infected person
Picture: Edexlive
Picture: Edexlive

Fear looms over the anxious city of Kozhikode in Kerala as one of the state's worst enemies, the Nipah virus, has crept its way back into the lives of innocent people — a 12-year-old boy infected with the virus died on Sunday morning.

During the 2018 Nipah outbreak in the state, 17 of the 18 infected patients had died. Even in 2019, one case of Nipah was detected in the Ernakulam district, but prompt response from public health authorities restricted any further spread of the virus. But now the state will have to fight a duel battle as the COVID cases in the state are on rise by the day.

What is the Nipah virus?
The earliest reported outbreak of Nipah virus goes as far back as 1998 in the Malaysian village of Kampung Sungai Nipah. The first known person infected with the Nipah virus did not survive. Just a year later, the Nipah outbreak caused a storm in Singapore.

From then to now, there have been multiple outbreaks of the Nipah virus, interestingly all of them in South and Southeast Asian nations. For instance, the neighbouring Bangladesh has had at least 10 outbreaks since 2001. It was also reported in West Bengal in 2001 and 2007, and then of course, in Kerala in 2018.

Where does this virus come from?
It is a zoonotic virus, which means that it has been transmitted from animals to human beings. The natural reservoir for the virus are large fruit bats. These bats are known to transmit the virus to other animals who may be eating fruits that are bitten on by infected bats.

The initial outbreaks were reported in pig breeders. This was, however, not the case in Bangladesh, the virus was suspected to have jumped to humans who directly consumed fruits that probably were contaminated by bat saliva or urine. Even as person-to-person transmission is not yet fully established, there have been studies that suggest transmission may also occur through the respiratory droplets of an infected person.

What are the symptoms to keep an eye for?
Symptoms usually appear in 4-14 days following exposure to the virus. Similar to that of COVID, it often includes signs of respiratory illness, such as cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. A phase of brain swelling may follow, where symptoms can include drowsiness, disorientation, and mental confusion, which can rapidly progress to coma within 24-48 hours.

How can I be safe?
Please avoid touching animals you don't know. Make sure that the fruits you buy are not wrinkled, or damaged in any way. You should also avoid drinking anything fermented or stored in the open for a long time. Physical distance is they key here as well, maintain distance from anybody infected with the virus. Kindly seek early medical attention if you show any symptoms or get in contact with an infected person or their things.

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