The world seems to be under threat of the outbreak of what is regarded as the next pandemic following the reemergence of the Nipah virus, which is reported to be far deadlier than the Covid-19 disease.
Officials in India are under pressure to contain the spread of the Nipah virus, which caused the death of a 12-year-old boy after he was taken to the hospital last week in the southern Kerala state with a high-grade fever and suspected brain inflammation.
After blood tests, the boy died on Sunday after he was diagnosed with the Nipah virus, which can kill 3 out of every 4 people it infects
There are reports that officials are using contact tracing, quarantine and hospitalization on the 188 people who have come in contact with the preteen to prevent a widespread outbreak in Kerala. This is the second time in 3 years that the Nipah virus is reported in the state.
That outbreak in 2018 killed 17 people of the 19 infected, a death rate of 89%. Kerala responded rapidly, and a health officer trained in Ebola outbreak protocols was brought in to ensure that the entire state isolated patients suspected of having Nipah. They also strengthened protocols for health workers wearing masks and for the decontamination of surfaces.
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A research professor at the University of Florida’s Environmental and Global Health Department, John Lednicky said, “This is one of those viruses we really need to pay attention to.’’
The reemergence of the Nipah virus is already adding to the problem of a nation burdened with the effects of Covid-19, with over 30,000 new COVID cases reported on Monday.
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What is the Nipah virus?
A Nipah virus infection is a viral infection caused by the Nipah virus. It is classified as a zoonotic virus that initially spreads from animals to people and can also be transmitted through contaminated food and directly between people.
The Nipah virus is not related to Covid-19, but may have the same originating source, which is bats and usually kills 50% to 75% of people infected with the virus.
The host of the virus is fruit bats, also known as flying foxes because of their large size. Fruit bats live in trees in close proximity to markets, places of worship, schools and tourist spots.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Nipah virus was first discovered in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999 after multiple pigs and people became sick, so far, the only recorded outbreaks have occurred in Asia.
Lednicky said pigs are highly susceptible to the virus and can come in contact with it through fruit materials the bats have been consuming.
Other domestic animals like horses, goats, sheep, cats and dogs can become infected, according to the CDC.
Unsuspecting humans may also come into contact with contaminated fruits and become infected.
Lednicky said, “There’s probably an underestimate of people who have been infected with the virus due to people not being properly diagnosed.’’
What are the signs and symptoms of Nipah virus?
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the symptoms of the Nipah virus vary from asymptomatic to acute respiratory infection and, at its worst, encephalitis, a swelling of active tissue in the brain that can be fatal.
Infected people can experience sore throat, fever, headaches and muscle pains. If the infection progresses, dizziness and altered consciousness could be signs of encephalitis.
The start of symptoms ranges from 4 to 14 days after exposure and there are currently no vaccines available to treat the virus.
WHO reports that the fatality rate for the Nipah virus is 40% to 75% of the cases, while the Covid-19 fatality rate is around 2%.
The incubation period for the virus is an average of 5-14 days, but in some extreme cases up to 45 days, which can mean a lot of time for an infected person to unknowingly infect others.
The virus is circulating at the moment in South-East Asia, with outbreaks in countries like Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Singapore.
Countries in other continents including the U.S. don’t need to worry much about Nipah virus because it has been isolated to Asia regions where fruit bats live. But there’s always a chance someone can bring the virus into a new area.
Lednicky hopes that U.S. can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and take on a more proactive approach versus a reactive one.