SEATTLE — The Nipah virus (NiV) is considered a pandemic, epidemic disease. Similar to Ebola, meningitis and the Zika virus, NiV is highly fatal, with a 70 percent mortality rate. It falls under the category of illnesses that are referred to as zoonoses, which means they can be transmitted between humans and animals.
The act of acquiring the virus requires close contact with an infected host. The virus is usually spread by fruit bats and domestic pigs; humans can also be infected by consuming fruit and date palm sap that the bats have come into contact with.
There are a series of symptoms that appear after the five to 14-day incubation period and indicate the presence of the infection. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
Beyond the onset of the initial symptoms, there are long-term effects that can impact NiV survivors. Some victims of this illness have been reported to experience personality changes, convulsions and have even fallen into a comatose state.
The Recent Outbreak and Its Effects
The first reported outbreak of NiV occurred in 1999. Pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore became ill and spread the virus to almost 300 people, leaving more than 100 dead in its wake. Authorities decided to euthanize one million pigs to stop the outbreak.
Unfortunately, this solution failed to wipe out the threat of an epidemic. As recently as May 2018, the virus has resurfaced. The outbreak began in the city of Kozhikode, India and spread to four neighboring districts in the state of Kerala. The death toll has now reached 14 people.
The Nipah virus outbreak has impacted tourism in Kerala. The government of Kerala issued an advisory to potential tourists to avoid the northern districts of the state. Hotels have observed the cancellation of tour packages and bookings as a result. Those that are still planning to visit are demanding additional safety measures from tour companies. Hotel managers are hoping this setback is temporary and that they will bounce back.
India’s fruit exports have also been affected, with the United Arab Emirates banning fresh fruits and vegetables imported from Kerala. The fruit bats feed on any fruit they discover, which could spread the virus to these fruits, remaining present even after being exported to other countries.
Government Solutions to the Nipah Virus
Among those that have died from the Nipah virus was a woman named Lini Puthussery. She served as a nurse at the Perambra Taluk Hospital in Kozhikode and contracted the virus while treating patients. Since her passing, the government of Kerala has taken steps to indemnify her family, giving Rs 1 million ($14,600 USD) to both of her young children and offering her husband employment with the government.
The government of Kerala has announced a contribution of Rs 500,000 ($7,300 USD) to every family that has suffered from a next of kin loss due to NiV. The health and government officials are doing what they can to help contain the outbreak by putting Kerala under a state-wide alert. A total of 2,379 people are currently quarantined in their homes, while more than 2,000 people are still under medical observation.
India’s National Centre for Disease Control is working alongside government investigation teams to contain and potentially end the Nipah virus outbreak. Two teams from New Delhi, India were sent to investigate the outbreak. When these teams entered the house of the first victims, there were bats in the well where the family drew water. Some bats have been captured and sent to labs for further inspection.
The National Institute of Virology, National Centre for Disease Control, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Department of Animal Husbandry and the Manipal Centre for Virus Research are all involved with the research and investigation of the outbreak in order to find a solution.
Precautions and Next Steps
Since there is currently no cure for the virus, infected people are sent to hospitals and treated with intensive care. Depending on the severity of the case, some patients are quarantined until further notice. Scientists have discovered that the virus can appear in a different form, affecting the lungs.
There are plenty of precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of contracting NiV. This specifically includes avoiding pigs, bats and the consumption of raw date palm sap. Everyone is being advised to raise the awareness of the risk factors of the virus to reduce exposure. In order to prevent transmission, the focus should be to decrease bat access to date palm sap and fresh fruit products. People dealing with sick animals should be sure to use gloves and protective clothing. In order to avoid human-to-human transmission, constant hand washing is advised.
To prevent future outbreaks, the World Health Organization is collaborating with the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and the Wellcome Trust to create a research roadmap to find a vaccine to prevent this fatal virus.
As of July 4, 2018, the last two victims of the Nipah virus in Kerala have recovered and have been released from the hospital. The citizens of Kerala are ecstatic about the positive outcome and hope that the renewed focus on preventive measures will ensure that the state does not see another outbreak and the negative effects on people’s lives and livelihoods.
– Kayla Sellers