Nipah virus outbreak | India reaches out to Australia for monoclonal antibody doses

With Nipah having a high mortality rate of 40% to 70%, India is aiming to contain its spread as quickly as possible through contact tracking; monoclonal antibodies not proven, but have passed Phase 1 trial

September 15, 2023 05:13 pm | Updated September 16, 2023 12:55 pm IST - New Delhi

Health officials in full protective gear at the Nipah isolation ward of Government Medical College, Kozhikode.

Health officials in full protective gear at the Nipah isolation ward of Government Medical College, Kozhikode. | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

India has reached out to Australia seeking to restock monoclonal antibody doses to combat the Nipah virus and is expecting 20 more doses soon, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) head Dr. Rajiv Bahl said on Friday. He added that the monoclonal antibody has passed the phase-one trial and has been administered to 14 persons globally till now.

(For top health news of the day, subscribe to our newsletter Health Matters)

Stating that the aim as of now is to ensure that the Nipah virus is contained as fast as possible, he added that aggressive contact tracking is underway.

“The mortality among the infected is very high in Nipah — between 40% and 70% — compared to the mortality in COVID, which was 2% to 3%,” Dr. Bahl said, addressing a press conference. He asserted that all efforts are on to contain the spread of the virus in Kerala and noted that all patients, so far, are contacts of an index patient. 

Deadly outbreak

Kerala is currently battling its fourth outbreak of the deadly virus. Two persons have died due to the virus while it has infected at least five others in the Kozhikode district. Several villages have been declared containment zones, and close to 1,000 contacts have been identified, of which over 200 are considered “high risk”.

Speaking about administering the antibody to patients, Dr. Bahl said that the final decision to use this antibody lay with the State government, the patient and the doctor administering treatment.

“ICMR is only making the antibody available for a virus that is known to have a high mortality rate,” he said, adding that none of the 14 people who have used the monoclonal antibody so far had died due to the virus.

Developed in the United States, the antibody was shared with an Australian university as part of a tech-transfer initiative. India got some doses of monoclonal antibodies from Australia in 2018. Currently, doses are available for only 10 patients, explained Dr. Bahl.

‘No authorised treatment’

Confirming that no one in India has so far administered the antibody, he said that it has to be administered in the early stage of the infection.

“Made available to India for compassionate use, the antibody is not a treatment. There is no authorised treatment for Nipah. The phase-1 of the trial for this antibody was completed and thereafter no opportunity presented itself to take the research forward. So far the information available with us is that it is safe but we can’t say that this is effective. Having said that, what is also true is the fact that if it helps the citizens in any way we will make it available for use,” said Dr. Bahl.

The monoclonal antibody is used in Australia for the Hendra virus, which is a bat-borne virus that is associated with a highly fatal infection in horses and humans. Numerous disease outbreaks in Australia among horses have been caused by Hendra Virus. Two doses of the antibody have to be given per person, the ICMR head explained.

‘Follow COVID precautions’

Asked why Kerala is facing a repeated outbreak of Nipah, he said that the exact reason was still being worked out. “In 2018, we found the outbreak in Kerala was related to bats, but we were not able to understand the exact pathway on how it got transferred from bats to humans. What we know is that it happens during a particular season. Again we are trying to find the pathway this time,” he said.

ICMR also said that while the standard operating protocols for treatment and handling of patients are in place, adequate precautions have to be followed to contain the spread of the virus. “Most of the COVID precautions like wearing a mask, washing hands and maintaining proper hygiene, avoiding contact with an infected person should be followed,” Dr. Bahl said.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.