You might have heard in the news about an outbreak of the Nipah virus in India. But did you know that this highly contagious and deadly virus first emerged much closer to home in Sungai Nipah, Malaysia, back in 1998, even spreading to Singapore? Hundreds died from the disease in both countries. So, in the wake of this latest outbreak in India, it’s good to be in-the-know about Nipah virus symptoms, prevention and treatment.
The primary host of this virus is the fruit bat.
What is Nipah?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Nipah virus (NiV) infection is a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans.” A “zoonosis” is a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans.
The natural hosts of this disease are fruit bats of the family Pteropodidae.
However, in the first large reported outbreak of the disease in Malaysia and Singapore, pigs were the (secondary) host.
How is the Nipah Virus Transmitted? What Are Past Nipah Hotspots?
As explained, the primary, or natural hosts of the Nipah virus are fruit bats. If a human or an animal eats fruit or anything else contaminated by an infected bat, then the virus passes to them. Even if a healthy human associates with an infected person, they can get the virus.
During the 1998 outbreak of Nipah in Malaysia, pigs probably ate fruit dropped by infected bats. This is how the disease passed to them, and subsequently, to pig farmers.
Another outbreak of Nipah was reported from Bangladesh in 2004. Here, the humans who contracted the disease did so after drinking date palm sap that had been contaminated by the urine or saliva of infected bats.
The latest outbreak is in Kerala, India. According to the BBC, at least 10 people have already died from the disease and many more have been quarantined. Dead bats were found in the well belonging to one of the deceased families.
Nipah virus symptoms can range from flu-like, to seizures and coma
Nipah Virus Symptoms
There is a large number of Nipah virus symptoms, ranging from asymptomatic infection, mild or severe respiratory infection to fatal encephalitis (brain swelling and infection).
The WHO identifies the most common Nipah virus symptoms:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headaches, muscle pain, sore throat and vomiting
- Hallucinations/altered consciousness
In severe cases, encephalitis and seizures are experienced, followed by coma within 24 to 48 hours. Death often follows.
The incubation period (amount of time from infection to symptoms) is between four to 14 days.
Diagnosis of Nipah involves blood, urine and other tests. According to medical experts, the virus can remain in the body for months, or even years, should the patient recover.
Currently, there are no drugs or vaccines available for the treatment or prevention of Nipah virus symptoms. Intensive support is recommended by medical experts to treat severe cases.
The WHO states that, “most people who survive acute encephalitis make a full recovery, but long term neurologic conditions have been reported in survivors.” Furthermore, “approximately 20% of patients are left with residual neurological consequences such as seizure disorder and personality changes.”
During an outbreak, the fatality rate is around 40% to 75%.
- Avoid consuming food/drink contaminated by bats, for example, fruit with bite marks, palm toddy.
- Stay away from pigs or pig farms in the event of an outbreak.
- Practice strict hygiene should you come into contact with an infected person, including thorough hand washing and staying a distance away from the patient.
We hope you found this information useful. Be cautious, aware and educated about this disease. Share this article with your friends and family so they stay informed about Nipah virus symptoms and prevention, too.
References: BBC, WHO,
Also read: Ebola: Everything you need to know
Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore