Mysuru: Nipah Virus is a newly emerging zoonotic disease that is causing severe illness and high fatality among animals and humans, said Dr. Satish Kumar, Consultant, Internal Medicine, Columbia Asia Hospital.
“When it caused an outbreak of brain fever among pig farmers in Malaysia in 1998, where pigs were the intermediate hosts, Nipah Virus was initially discovered. Afterwards in 2004, there were cases reported in Bangladesh. People who had consumed date palm sap which was contaminated by excreta or saliva of the infected fruit bat were infected. There is still no effective antiviral therapy for this infection”, added Dr. Satish.
The symptoms of a Nipah Virus infection at first are not so specific, asymptomatic in some and in others, it is fever, headache, muscle pain, abdominal pain, nausea, fainting, vomiting and also respiratory ailments. The disease can rapidly progress, ultimately leading to coma within 24 to 48 hours if it is a case of encephalitis. Long term changes like persistent convulsions and personality changes can also occur.
Nipah Virus is transmitted from bats to human beings by the consumption of food contaminated by the bodily fluids of the infected fruit bats. Pigs are the intermediate hosts. Humans can get infected from a pig with the active disease by coming into close and frequent contact or handling raw meat from the infected animal or consuming the poorly cooked meat. Human to human transmission occurs in case of caregivers or family.
Nipah virus infection is diagnosed through the Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test. That is done on throat and nasal swabs, cerebrospinal fluid, urine and blood with the diagnosis of infection during the early stages.
Diagnosis by detection of antibodies against the virus usually is possible in by 2nd week of illness but the test is not commonly available. Tissue diagnosis is possible by culture or immunohistochemistry but is rare. There is no effective treatment available for Nipah virus. Treatment includes symptomatic and supportive care. With strict infection control practices and proper barrier precaution, the spread of disease can be checked.
Precautions to be taken to avoid the spread of Nipah Virus infection:
-Do not consume food contaminated by bat body fluids or bat urine/faeces.
-Do not drink in an open container near palm trees.
-Avoid or use preventive measures for close and frequent contact with an infected person. Good hygienic practices such as washing hands before eating and regularly, after a visit to public places and hospital are recommended.
-Avoid pork or any by-product of a pig which is the host for Nipah virus, directly transmitting it to humans from the bats.
-Avoid close physical contact with patients suspected to have the infection. Do not share utensils, clothes, restrooms used by them
-Healthcare providers who treat infected persons should wear protective gear-gowns and face masks.
-Avoid fruits which have chances of being contaminated by bat excreta or from areas which have high bat habitation.
Prevention is better than cure
Maintaining personal hygiene and intensive handwashing practices are important. Avoid fruits, consume only well cooked, clean, homemade food. Use masks while travelling or working in public places with reported cases of the infection. Be aware and report to the doctor immediately for early diagnosis and treatment. It is better to stay away from heavily dense dark areas which are habitats for bats. While having byproducts of a pig, do refrain or only go for the extremely processed ones. Although it is not recommended, avoiding the same is the ideal thing to do.
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