The virulent Nipah Virus

God’s Own Country Kerala is in the news again with Nipah virus (NiV) deaths. This is not the first time the state has encountered the virus, and in 2018, incidences of NiV were reported. Malaysia reported the first cases in 1999 and Bangladesh in 2001. The name has emerged from a village in Malaysia. In India, cases occurred in 2001 and 2007 in West Bengal. The outbreaks in India and Bangladesh were associated with consuming raw palm sap that fruit bats contaminated. Due to its severity, the virus has created havoc and anxiety among the healthcare fraternity and general public.


What is the Nipah virus?

A zoonotic disease that spreads through domesticated animals’ body fluids. Direct contact with animal droppings, blood, urine, saliva, etc., helps the virus to spread to humans. In Kerala, the virus is spreading through fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family. Though it doesn’t spread as fast as the COVID-19 virus, NiV is said to be far deadlier than COVID-19, leading to deaths. The virus symptoms include headache, vomiting, breathing difficulties, cough and sore throat, diarrhea, etc. The disease is associated with encephalitis in the brain, and the more severe form can even lead to death. The symptoms appear within five to 14 days post-exposure to the virus. According to the CDC, the virus can lead to 40 to 75 percent of deaths.



Diagnosis of Nipah virus is done by ELISA test and can also be diagnosed by a test known as PCR or viral cultures. With no specific treatment or vaccine available, timely specific monitoring by healthcare professionals is the need of the hour. Effective mechanisms should be in place for timely collection of blood samples, transporting them, and coming out with the report on time so that proper care can be taken of the infected. Current treatment modalities include the ready availability of monoclonal antibodies.



Thorough cleaning of fruits and vegetables before consuming, washing hands, and not venturing into bat-infested areas can be some of the preventive measures from NiV. Using hand gloves and protective gear while attending to infected patients can also be taken into account.


The consequence

NiV-infected people who have survived have been reported to encounter long-term neurologic conditions with seizure disorder and personality changes. Raising awareness is the need of the hour. Culling of the infected animals is needed; however, one should keep in mind that there may be a better solution than culling the entire population of the fruit bat, in the case of Kerala, as it may lead to ecological imbalance.