Beware! NIPAH Pandemic is spreading through bat-infested well

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Lucknow: These days we have all been hearing of a new pandemic spreading through NIPAH virus. The brain damaging virus was first detected in Malaysia in 1998, a fresh flare-up of the disease has emerged in India recently. The state of Kerala is reporting 10 dead, two more confirmed infected and 40 quarantined. According to local media, panic has begun to grip the region. Worryingly, one of the dead is a medical worker who has been working with the diseased: a 33-year-old nurse.

A Central team in Kozhikode to review NIPAH virus outbreak has found bats in the vicinity of the house of the first victim of the deadly virus. The team from National Centre for Disease Control on Monday visited the house in Perambra from where the initial death from NIPAH was reported. The team found many bats housed in the well from where the family was drawing water.  Fruit bats are natural hosts of NIPAH virus, which can spread to humans.

There is no vaccine for the NIPAH virus, which is spread through body fluids and can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. The usual treatment is to provide supportive care.

How does NIPAH spread:

The disease spreads through fruit bats or ‘flying foxes,’ of the genus Pteropus, who are natural reservoir hosts of the NIPAH and Hendra viruses. The virus is present in bat urine and potentially, bat faeces, saliva, and reproductive fluids. Presumably, the first incidence of NIPAH virus infection occurred when pigs in Malaysian farms came in contact with the bats who had lost their habitats due to deforestation. Furthermore, transmission between farms may be due to fomites – or carrying the virus on clothing, equipment, boots, vehicles.

NIPAH Virus, which is a zoonotic disease, was known to affect humans in Malaysia and Singapore after coming in direct contact with the excretions or secretions of infected pigs. Reports from outbreaks in Bangladesh suggest transmission from bats in the process of drinking raw palm sap contaminated with bat excrement or climbing trees coated in the same

Symptoms of the NIPAH infection

Typically, the human infection presents as an encephalitic syndrome marked by fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion, coma, and potentially death. During the outbreak in Malaysia, up to 50 per cent of clinically apparent human cases died. There is no specific treatment for NIPAH Virus. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care.

Prevention of the NIPAH infection

While there is no vaccine available for the infection, preventive measures can be a key to control the spread. With fruits bats being the primary cause of infection, the farm animals should be prevented from eating fruit contaminated by bats. Consumption of contaminated date palm sap including toddy should also be avoided. Physical barriers can be put in place in order to prevent bats from accessing and contaminating palm sap.

Medical officials who are looking after the patients with suspected or confirmed NiV should take basic precautions like washing hands, using a gown, cap mask and wearing gloves. For laboratory personnel, NIPAH virus is classified internationally as a biosecurity level (BSL) 4 agent. BSL 2 facilities are sufficient if the virus can be first inactivated during specimen collection.

In case of animals, wire screens can help prevent contact with bats when pigs are raised in open-sided pig sheds. Run-off from the roof should be prevented from entering pig pens. practice. Early recognition of infected pigs can help protect other animals and humans. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus in swine populations, mass culling of seropositive animals may be necessary.

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