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Nipah Virus: Symptoms, Transmission,  Diagnosis and Treatment


In recent years, the world has seen the causes and effects of COVID-19, which raised the importance of understanding and managing emerging pathogens. One such virus is the Nipah Virus, which the Indian state of Kerala has been facing recently. NiV or Nipah Virus Infection is an emerging zoonotic pathogen that is primarily found in fruit bats and can initially spread between animals and humans. The first ever Nipah virus was detected in Kampung Sungai Nipah in Malaysia, hence the name of the virus. 


According to the WHO, the Nipah virus transmission fatality rate is estimated at 40% to 75%. The Nipah disease can also cause severe infection in animals like pigs. Despite the virus’s fatality rate so high, WHO says it is very unlikely that the Nipah virus will lead to a global emergency, but raised alarms about how to prevent the spread of the virus. Read on to discover what is the Nipah virus, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment to stay informed and prevent the spread.


What is the Nipah Virus?


The Nipah Virus is a member of the Paramyxoviridae family, which is a type of zoonotic disease. The Nipah virus has caused sporadic outbreaks in South Asia, resulting in severe respiratory and neurological symptoms in both animals and humans. The virus can be traced to fruit bats, also known as flying foxes. These bats serve as the single most natural reservoirs of the Nipah virus, which means they can carry and transmit the virus to other animals or humans without displaying visible symptoms. 


Virologists studying the Nipah virus have discovered that it sits on surface cell proteins ephrin-B2 and ephrin-B3, which then target the respiratory system before spreading it to the nervous system and brain. When an infected fruit bat sheds the virus either through saliva, urine or faeces, it tends to contaminate the environment and other host animals, initiating the outbreak. An individual can become infected by the Nipah virus if they come in close contact with an infected animal or body fluids, such as fruit bat saliva on fruits, etc.


Symptoms of the Nipah Virus


The Nipah virus can manifest with symptoms ranging from mild to severe infection, including swelling of the brain, commonly known as encephalitis. The incubation period of the virus is said to range from four to fourteen days. An infected person develops initial symptoms, such as fever, headaches, myalgia, sore throat and vomiting. These symptoms can be followed by disorientation, dizziness, seizures, and mental confusion, which can rapidly progress to coma within 28-48 hours if correct health measures are not followed. As per the WHO, some of the infected individuals also face several respiratory and atypical pneumonia. Diagnosing the Nipah virus in the initial stage is often difficult because the symptoms might resemble many other similar illnesses. But if an individual shows symptoms or has been to an area where the Nipah virus is common, the doctor may order an RT-PCR or an ELISA test.


The severity of the infection depends from person to person. In some individuals, the virus can cause dormant to latent infections. Most individuals who survive the infection make a full recovery, while some may experience long-term effects of the virus, such as convulsions or personality changes.


Diagnosis of the Nipah Virus Disease


Because the initial stages of the Nipah virus can also be symptoms of other respiratory issues, doctors rarely diagnose the Nipah virus at first. But if the individual has travelled to Nipah infected region, the doctor may diagnose the infection through tests, such as:


Real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)

RT-PCR is one of the most common tests to check for the Nipah virus, usually at the initial stages. Here, a healthcare expert uses a cotton swab to take viral fluid samples either from the nose or throat. 


Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)

ELISA is another accurate test to look for antibodies in an infected person. The test helps in identifying the Nipah virus in the later stages of infection or after recovery.


A healthcare expert can advise on the Nipah virus treatment after closely reviewing the symptoms. The Nipah virus can also be detected by ordering a PCR test or by viral cultures. Early detection of the Nipah virus transmission is critical to advise on the right treatment plan among infected individuals. This will help prevent the spread of the virus to other people and manage outbreak response efforts. 


Treatment of the Nipah Virus


Since the Nipah virus is very new to the medical industry, there are no known antiviral medications to treat the virus. Given the lack of effective treatment procedures, treatment of the virus is limited to supportive care through the following:


  • Staying hydrated
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Using medication prescribed by the doctor to control nausea and vomiting
  • Using inhalers or consumption of hot beverages to improve breathing problems
  • Taking antiseizure medications in case of a seizure (only after prescribed by the doctor)


While no approved drug treatment exists to treat the Nipah virus, immunotherapeutic treatments, also known as monoclonal antibody therapies, are under development. Currently, no tested and approved vaccines to cure the Nipah disease exist.


How to Prevent the Nipah Virus?


The spread of the Nipah virus can be prevented through a variety of infection control measures. If an individual travels to an area where the Nipah virus is common, here are some key strategies to prevent the virus from spreading.


Practice Good Hygiene

To prevent the spread of the virus, it is advisable to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Usage of hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol concentration is advisable by healthcare experts.


Avoid Close Contact

In areas where the spread of infection is common, individuals must avoid close contact with other individuals or domestic animals at high risk of NiV infection. This can help reduce the risk of human-to-human and animal-to-human transmission, especially during outbreaks.


Appropriate Food Hygiene

It is also important for individuals to follow appropriate food hygiene practices, such as avoiding food or drinks which are at high risk of contamination by fruit bats. All consumable food items must be thoroughly washed before consumption. Additionally, food items with signs of animal bites must be discarded immediately to avoid the spread of the virus.


Quarantine Measures

Individuals in contact with confirmed or suspected cases of infection by the Nipah virus should be subject to quarantine or isolation to avoid transmission of infection. The use of personal protection equipment or PPE must be encouraged to prevent the spread of the infection effectively.


The Nipah virus outbreak in the Indian state of Kerala has raised several preventive measures to prevent the virus from spreading. Understanding what Nipah is, its origin, symptoms, and transmission is essential for healthcare experts to devise effective prevention and control strategies. Hence, it is crucial to consult a healthcare provider if experiencing any symptoms of the Nipah virus, especially if visiting a region with known outbreaks. Avoiding contact with infected persons or animals is the best way to avoid virus transmission. In case related symptoms are felt, one can book an RT-PCR test from Dr. B. Lal in the comfort of their home. The well-priced tests available at Dr. B. Lal are an effective way to stay updated in case of any potential threat of transmission.


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