Nipah virus outbreak reported in India

Three people have died in Kerala’s coastal city Kozhikode, reportedly due to the rare Nipah virus, disease mainly carried by fruit bats and which has a 70 per cent mortality rate. Nipah virus (NiV) was first documented in 1998 and is thought to be spread by fruit-eating bats and presents with a range of symptoms

Eight deaths in the region are being investigated for possible links to the Nipah virus, which is causing large-scale panic in Kerala, a state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast, with Arabian Sea shoreline. 

The deaths have put the government machinery into action. India’s health minister has rushed medical experts to the area who have started clinics and are trying to identify people who may have contracted the  fever. Nipah induces flu-like symptoms that often lead to encephalitis and co ..

On Sunday evening health officials got the confirmation report from National Institute of Virology, that of four samples sent, three tested positive for Nipah virus.

In the last two weeks, there were three deaths in one family and others are now in critical condition undergoing treatment at a hospital.

Samples from the deceased collected and sent to a virology lab that have now been confirmed as Nipah virus. On Sunday, two more deaths occurred in Kozhikode due to suspected viral infection but medical officials had yet to confirm that those victims were inflicted with the Nipah virus.

The first major outbreak of NiV in 1998 that left more than 100 people dead in Malaysia supposedly saw domesticated pigs as the hosts, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2001, the first outbreak occurred in India in the state of West Bengal and was attributed solely to fruit bats.

In 2001, many in Bangladesh fell ill after consuming palm sap which had been contaminated by the fruit bat. WHO also stated that human to human transmission is also seeing a steady rise.

Direct contact with infected pigs and other animals, or through contaminated food, such as half-eaten fruits left by fruit bats, and even direct contact with sick persons have been cited as the underlying cause of outbreaks.

The incubation period for the virus ranges from 5 to 14 days and symptoms become visible after this period. Symptoms include fever, head ache, fainting and nausea.

In some cases, symptoms like choking, stomach pain, vomiting, fatigue and blurred vision could also exist. A patient can possibly go into a coma just two days after the symptoms begin and the chance of contracting encephalitis that affects the brain is high.

There is no way to inoculate against Nipah virus, however preventive measures have been suggested by infectious diseases specialists who say that reducing risk factors may be more effective than vaccines.

“Preventing humans from being infected through non-vaccination efforts will perhaps play an even more important, and less expensive, role in controlling NiV disease,” said Dr Benjamin A Satterfield, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Mayo Clinic.

Former US Senator Joe Lieberman helped write a 2015 report on the lack of preparedness for a biological attack or epidemic based on a hypothetical attack that involved a genetically engineered Nipah virus sprayed into the air during a July 4th celebration in Washington, D.C., .

Even though the U.S. government has been warned repeatedly of such biological threats, and has spent nearly $80 billion since 2000 on preparations, it’s not doing so in an organized way, according to the privately funded report from the group headed by Lieberman and former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge.

“We are spending about $6 billion a year in biodefense and we don’t think we are getting our money’s worth out of it,” Lieberman said.

“There is no centralized leader for biodefense. There is no comprehensive national strategic plan for biodefense. There is no all-inclusive dedicated budget for biodefense,” the report reads.

“At some point, we will likely be attacked with a biological weapon, and will certainly be subjected to deadly naturally occurring infectious diseases and accidental exposures, for which our response will likely be insufficient.”

“The reaction to the Ebola outbreak and the H5N1 bird flu virus that has infected close to 800 people in 16 countries since 2003, killing more than half of them, showed that we weren’t ready to be attacked with a biological weapon,” said Lisa McCormick, a Democratic candidate for US Senate in New Jersey.  “Groups like ISIS are willing to do the most terrible things possible. The risk of biological warfare and threats to attack anyone with biological weapons put humanity at risk of extinction, so we must better prepare to respond before confronted with a nightmare scenario.”

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