The Nipah virus (NiV) is a rare but serious infection that can cause fever, headache, respiratory distress, and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). It has a high fatality rate of 40-75%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and there is no specific treatment or vaccine available. The virus can be transmitted from animals to humans, especially from fruit bats and pigs, as well as through contaminated food or direct contact with infected people.
Recently, the state of Kerala in India has reported its fourth outbreak of Nipah virus since 2018, with two deaths and three confirmed cases so far. The state government has declared a health alert and initiated mass testing and contact tracing to contain the spread of the virus. Schools and offices have been shut in some parts of the state and public gatherings have been restricted.
Here are some risk factors and preventive measures that you should be aware of to protect yourself and your loved ones from the Nipah virus:
Fruit bats are considered the natural reservoir of Nipah virus. They can shed the virus in their saliva, urine, or feces, which can contaminate fruits, vegetables, palm sap, or water sources. Direct or indirect contact with these bats or their excretions can lead to infection in humans.
Pigs can also get infected by Nipah virus from bats or other pigs and transmit it to humans through close contact. In 1998, the first outbreak of Nipah virus occurred in Malaysia and Singapore among pig farmers and slaughterhouse workers who were exposed to infected pigs.
To avoid exposure to animal reservoirs, you should:
- Avoid contact with sick or dead animals, especially bats and pigs.
- Avoid consuming fruits or vegetables that may have been bitten by bats or contaminated by their excretions.
- Avoid drinking raw palm sap or toddy that may have been contaminated by bats.
- Wear gloves and masks when handling animals or animal products.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with animals or animal products.
Consumption of food that has been contaminated by bat saliva or urine can result in infection by Nipah virus. This can happen when fruits or vegetables are not washed properly before eating or when raw palm sap or toddy is consumed without boiling or pasteurizing.
To prevent infection from contaminated food, you should:
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
- Boil or pasteurize palm sap or toddy before drinking it.
- Avoid eating fruits that have fallen on the ground or have signs of bat bites.
- Cook meat thoroughly before eating it.
Once a person is infected by Nipah virus, they can also spread it to other people through close contact. This can happen through respiratory droplets, saliva, urine, blood, or other bodily fluids. The virus can also be transmitted through fomites, which are objects or materials that can carry infection, such as clothes, bedding, utensils, or medical equipment.
Human-to-human transmission of Nipah virus is more likely to occur in healthcare settings, where infected patients may come in contact with healthcare workers or other patients. In 2001, the first outbreak of Nipah virus in India occurred in Siliguri, West Bengal, where 33 people died after being infected by a patient who had travelled from Bangladesh.
To reduce the risk of human-to-human transmission, you should:
- Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of Nipah virus infection, such as fever, headache, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or altered mental status.
- Wear a mask and gloves when caring for sick people or handling their samples or belongings.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and dispose of tissues properly.
- Seek medical attention immediately if you develop any symptoms of Nipah virus infection.
Nipah virus is a serious threat to public health that requires prompt action and cooperation from all stakeholders. By being aware of the risk factors and preventive measures, you can help protect yourself and your community from this deadly disease.