Last evening, the health department of Kerala confirmed the first Nipah virus infection in the State after testing the blood samples of two persons who died of viral fever in Kozhikode district. Private and government hospitals are on high alert to monitor the disease and its spread.
According to WHO, the Nipah virus infection is a newly emerging zoonosis, that is, a disease transmitted from animals to humans. The virus belongs to a new genus termed Henipavirus (subfamily Paramyxovirinae).
Which animals can spread the disease?
The natural host of the virus are fruit bats belonging to the family Pteropodidae. In 2004, humans were affected after eating the date palm contaminated by infected fruit bats. Pigs can also act as intermediate hosts.
When was it first reported?
It was first identified in 1998 at Kampung Sungai Nipah village, Malaysia. The virus is named after this village.
What are the symptoms in humans?
The symptoms of Nipah are similar to that of influenza: fever, muscle pain, and respiratory problems. Inflammation of the brain can also cause disorientation. Late onset of Encephalitis can also occur. Sometimes a person can have an asymptomatic infection, and be a carrier of Nipah and not show any symptoms.
How do doctors diagnose Nipah ?
- Serology- blood tests to see the antibodies
- Histopathology- microscopic study of tissues
- PCR- Polymerase Chain Reaction technique to look for viral DNA
- Virus isolation
Confirmatory tests include
- Serum Neutralization Test
The Nipah virus is classified as a biosecurity level (BSL) 4 agent and the tests should be carried out in special labs to prevent its spread. The blood and body fluid samples of two persons who died in Kozhikode were studied at the special laboratory at National Virology Institute, Pune.
Are there any vaccines?
Currently, there are no vaccines for both humans and animals. Intensive supportive care is given to humans infected by Nipah virus.
According to WHO, ribavarin can reduce the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and convulsions associated with the disease. Individuals infected need to be hospitalised and isolated. Special care should be taken to prevent human-to-human transmission. Surveillance systems should be established to detect the virus quickly and to initiate appropriate control measures.