11 people have died in Kozhikode district, Kerala allegedly after contacting what’s being called the ‘Nipah’ virus. The Union Health Minister has sent a team from National Centre for Disease Control or NCDC to investigate and offer assistance to the local administration. The deaths were attributed to Nipah virus after testing at National Institute of Virology in Pune. The epicenter is at Perambra, about 40 km from Kozhikode.
According to the World Health Organisation, Nipah virus or NiV infection is a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans. The natural host of the Nipah virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus.
Nipah virus is fairly new. The virus was first identified in 1998 in Malaysia and pigs were identified as the intermediate host. It spread to humans after they came in contact with pig feces and excretions. Nipah virus gets its name from the village where the virus was first spotted in Malaysia. The virus has been found in species of domestic animals including dogs, cats, goats, horses and sheep after they came in contact with pigs.
Later Nipah virus showed up in Bangladesh in 2004, where humans became infected with NiV as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats. Before the current outbreak in Kerala, Nipah virus or NiV had infected 477 people and killed 252.
During the outbreak, 33 health workers and hospital visitors became ill after exposure to patients.
According to WHO, factsheet on the Nipah virus is, as a result of the loss of natural habitat of bats, the bats get stressed and hungry, their immune system gets weaker, their virus load goes up and a lot of virus spills out in their urine and saliva.
Symptoms of Nipah virus range from asymptomatic to fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion, coma and death. Officials in Kerala have said mortality rate is only 70%.
In Malaysia, where the disease was first spotted, 50% of patients who showed symptoms died. Treatment is focused on managing fever and neurological symptoms and offering full support.