The recent outbreak of NIPAH in Kerala has raised serious health concerns all over India. The current outbreak is the latest of the four outbreaks of the NIPAH Virus since 2018, brought to light when 2 cases of death due to an unknown virus were reported in Kozhikode, Kerela, in September 2023. The viral infection tends to get very serious quickly and is associated with high mortality rates. Considering the nature of the virus, we need to take adequate preventive measures and keep us and our dear ones safe.
What is the Nipah virus?
Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus found in animals in Northeast Africa and Southeast Asia, such as wild fruit bats, flying foxes, and even pigs. The transmission of the virus to humans can be via direct contact with the body fluids of the infected animals, such as saliva, blood, urine, and sweat of the infected animals and even items like fruits and sap eaten by the animals. Once it infects humans, it is highly infectious to other humans and can spread through saliva, vomit, urine, and other body fluids. The most susceptible targets for infections are caregivers and family members.
The virus has very high morbidity rates; according to WHO, the mortality rates for an infected person fall between 40-75%. The virus is known to cause inflammation in the brain, known as encephalitis, and can land a person in a coma on the first or second day of infection. There is no known treatment guideline or preventive vaccine for Nipah infection yet; therefore, the healthcare system ultimately depends on supportive measures for care and treatment.
What are overt the signs and symptoms of NIPAH virus infection?
The virus causes different symptoms in different people and leads to diseases ranging from no symptoms to severe disease and encephalitis. However,
Some of the commonly seen symptoms in infected individuals are as follows:
- Myalgia or body pains
- Drowsiness and altered consciousness
- Sore throat
- Seizures in more severe cases
Encephalitis, coma, respiratory distress, and pneumonia can be complicated cases. If treatment interventions are made early, it can lead to progress toward recovery. Even after recovery in some patients with brain infections, residual symptoms, and neurological deficits will lead to lifelong disability. If you have traveled to Kerela recently or live in Kerla and know anyone showing these signs and symptoms, isolate, take precautions, and alert the health authorities in your area immediately.
How is the diagnosis of the Nipah Virus confirmed?
Nipah virus can be diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms and a history of travel to a Nipah Virus containment zone, contact with bats or pigs, or proximity to a person with signs and symptoms of the Nipah virus infection. In India, the confirmation of the diagnosis of the NIPAH virus is done with testing of nasal swabs, throat swabs, and other body fluid samples of the probable cause of Nipah Virus infection in the mobile level 3 biosafety laboratories of ICMR stationed in Kerela.
Treatment of Nipah Virus
As mentioned before, there is no specific treatment for Nipah Virus infection in Human beings, and apart from isolation, we can only give supportive treatment for the patient in the form of rest, oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, anti-fever medications, and so on.
For the recent outbreaks, there is also increased use of monoclonal antibodies, which are immunological proteins, mimicking those found in humans produced in response to any infection that occurs in the body and is specific to that very infection. Although the efficacy of monoclonal antibodies against Nipah is yet to be ascertained through further research, they have been employed assuming properties and efficiency similar to monoclonal bodies employed in other infections such as COVID-19, wherein it reduced mortality and improved recovery rates.
How do we protect ourselves from Nipah Virus infection?
Prevention and protection is the best cure in light of no specific cure. Owing to the infectious nature of the disease, the following precautions can help in protection.
- Avoid travel to the area of outbreak until it is declared safe.
- Avoid going to crowded places such as markets, places of worship, public transport and social gatherings
- Wear a mask and observe hand hygiene when outside.
- Maintain distance from people showing symptoms of Nipah virus infection or even people coughing and maybe sick.
- Self-isolate and get yourself tested if you have symptoms of infection and have come in contact with an infected case or have a history of travel to an area of outbreak.
- Eat a healthy diet with immunity boosters such as green vegetables, citrus fruits, and proteins, and exercise regularly to maintain your health.
In the wake of a national health emergency, we must be proactive and care for ourselves and our loved ones. Follow good preventive practices not just to aid protection from Nipah but also other infections such as new stains of COVID-19, seasonal flu, and others.