Health Agencies Monitoring Deadly Virus Outbreak In India

The United Kingdom Health Security Agency is monitoring another outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus in India. Nipah has a mortality rate of around 75% and can spread between animals and humans. The virus is believed to have originated in wild fruit bat populations and can spread to humans and other mammals.

The most recent outbreak is occurring in the southwestern state of Kerala. Authorities there have listed nine villages as containment zones and advise residents to take precautions to limit the spread of the disease. Schools and offices are closed in the region.

Nipah virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets but can also be transmitted through contaminated food and physical contact. There are two known variants of the virus which first emerged in 1999 and has been found four times since then.

There is no vaccine or treatment for people infected with the Nipah virus. The disease presents a range of symptoms that include respiratory difficulties and encephalitis, a condition that results in swelling of the brain and can lead to death. The virus is less contagious than COVID-19, but has a much higher mortality rate.

So far, just two people have died in the most recent outbreak. Six people have been diagnosed with the virus including a nine-year-old boy who is currently on a ventilator and receiving unproven monoclonal antibody treatments in an effort to save his life.

Nipah has been found in Bangladesh and Malaysia where the virus was first discovered. That outbreak involved pigs which likely transmitted the disease from fruit bats. The Nipah virus has not been seen in Malaysia since the 1999 outbreak. It is not clear whether the Malaysian variant was transferred to India or if the Indian variant is unique. The two variants show a moderate degree of similarity.

Physical contact is the most likely human-to-human spread. During an outbreak in India, 75% of infections happened to healthcare workers caring for infected people. Transmission to humans is believed to have happened from contact with infected pigs which can show no signs of the virus.

The World Health Organization is telling people who consume fruits or fruit products originating from areas with outbreaks to avoid products that have signs of bat bites. Thoroughly washing and peeling fruit will prevent infections. Raw date palm juice is a common source of the virus due to bats and WHO is warning consumers to boil the juice before using it.

The Nipah virus has been found in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Singapore. Fruit bats are natural hosts for the virus and can be found from China to Australia and inhabit many Indian and Pacific Ocean islands. Travellers should be aware of the presence of Nipah virus and avoid travelling to these areas.