The Nipah virus has been on the news for a week or more now. It is currently known to be an infection mainly affecting people in Kerala. Amidst all the panic and worry about it, it is better for us to stay informed on all the developments. We should also avoid being misled by mere speculation and misinformation.
What is the Nipah virus?
The Nipah virus, according to the World Health Organization, is a new emerging zoonosis that can affect both humans and animals, and is thought to be most commonly hosted by infected fruit bats.
The Nipah virus gets its name from a village in Malaysia, where the infection was first detected, in 1999. It was also detected in Bangladesh in 2004. Recently, it has been identified in Kerala as well in the last few weeks.
Amidst all the panic about the virus, we need to stay informed and know about the infection, what happens and be able to see the real things about the virus rather than give in to speculation and worry.
Transmission of Nipah Virus
The Nipah virus was first caused by contact with contaminated tissues of pigs in Malaysia, whereas in India and Bangladesh, it was caused by consuming fruits like date palm or other fruits and fruit products that were contaminated by the saliva or urine of fruit bats.
While the bats and pigs are involved in this equation, after a series of tests conducted by India’s apex animal testing laboratory in Bhopal, a recent report has stated that they may not the primary cause of the outbreak. This has deepened the mystery. However, the infection is believed to be an airborne transmission, primarily from animals, spread through close contact with people’s secretions and excretions. The Kerala Health Ministry thinks that the epidemic, as of today, may be ‘localised’ to Kerala.
Signs and Symptoms
Once infected, it can take anywhere between three to 21 days for the symptoms to appear. The symptoms of the Nipah virus vary in intensity. For the first three days, it is difficult to separate Nipah infection from flu-like illnesses. The commonly observed symptoms include:
4. Disorientation, and
5. More intense respiratory symptoms.
The other, more severe symptoms also include:
1. Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
2. It may progress to a coma within 48 hours - in very severe cases.
The early symptoms like fever and nausea last around 7-10 days and during this time, it is important to watch out for symptoms like respiratory distress, and disorientation or confusion. In fact, Nipah encephalitis is a less known symptom of the Nipah infection - it is the brain swelling that can result from infection, which can also prove to be fatal. The Nipah virus has a mortality rate of 40 to 75 percent.
Treatment and Precautions
If a patient seems to have fever as well as encephalitis, their fluids are collected and sent for testing. They are also treated in isolation, and the Ribavirin antibody is administered. In case the tests are positive within 3 to 7 days, they are given antibodies. Mainly, the treatment is aimed at reducing the respiratory and neurological symptoms, and keeping the patient hydrated. This takes intensive care and support.
But this does not mean that we shouldn’t stay aware and take the necessary precautions:
- It is advised to avoid direct contact with infected pigs, bats and people from the regions who might be ill or infected. In fact, the UAE has issued a travel warning, advising its people to put off any unnecessary travel to the regions with this infection.
- Doctors and other staff handling infected persons, are advised to wear masks and gloves of NH95 and higher grade quality.
- Keep your hands clean, washing with soap and water.
- Take care while eating fruit, making sure it has been cleaned well, and that it doesn’t seem to be partially decaying or bitten by birds and bats.
- Watch out for meat that is not properly cooked, because animals can be carriers of the infection.
- In case of similar symptoms as listed above, it is advisable to keep calm and consult a doctor rather than jump to conclusions.
It can be easy to be a victim to the symptoms and causes of Nipah, as well as the fear and panic that is going around. So, it is always best to stay informed. Make sure that your information about Nipah is credible and comes from reliable sources. Do not panic, but you must visit a professional if and when you have doubts. Do not try to self-diagnose, because it will only stress you out!