Contributed by: Rachana Arya
The outbreak of the Nipah virus infection, which has a mortality rate of 40% to 75%, that has taken place in Southern India has created a lot of panic among people. The disease causes severe asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to severe respiratory sickness and deadly encephalitis, making it a public health concern. So, it is important to understand that this is a very serious disease and is associated with high morbidity and mortality.
Nipah virus, along with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Zika virus, is one of eight emerging diseases identified by the World Health Organization’s Research and Development Blueprint as having the potential to cause a severe public health outbreak. With Nipah being confirmed, several rumors and speculations are being spread on social media, leading to an overwhelming mix of myths and facts about it. This article aims to break the perceptions and myths about NiV.
Overview of NiV
Nipah virus is classified as a zoonotic virus, which means that it is transmitted from animals to humans. It can also be transmitted through contaminated food or directly through contact between people. When the virus gets transmitted from animals to humans, it becomes very fatal and is called spillover.
Symptoms of NiV
Nipah virus causes a range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to severe respiratory infection and — at its worst — encephalitis, a swelling of active tissue in the brain that can be very dangerous.
Primary symptoms of the Nipah Virus often initially include one or several of the following:
- Severe headache
- Aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
Severe persisting symptoms may follow, such as:
- Disorientation, drowsiness, and/or confusion
- Brain swelling (encephalitis)
Myth #1: The Nipah virus is not contagious
Nipah Virus is highly contagious, with no specific treatment available. Human-to-human transmission of the Nipah virus is reported among family and caregivers of infected patients. The NiV spreads directly from human to human through close contact with an infected person’s respiratory droplets, secretions, and excretions. Person-to-person transmission can also occur through close physical touch, particularly through bodily fluid contact.
Hence, close unprotected physical contact with Nipah-infected people should be avoided. Regular hand washing should be carried out before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives. Health-care workers who are caring for or handling specimens from patients with a suspected or confirmed infection should follow conventional infection control procedures at all times.
Myth #2: It is NOT a virus of considerable concern
WHO has identified NiV as a priority disease for the WHO Research and Development Blueprint. Nipah virus infection currently has no approved vaccines or drugs for treatment, either for people or for animals. The primary line of treatment for severe respiratory and neurological complications is intensive supportive care. Neurological complications such as seizure disorder and personality changes affect about 20% of patients with acute encephalitis.
Myth #3: Fruit bats, which are the natural hosts of the Nipah virus, enjoy fruits. As a result, you should not eat fruits
Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural hosts of the Nipah virus and are the main cause of transmission. These bats enjoy a variety of fresh fruits. Drinking raw date palm sap contaminated with NiV is a primary mechanism of transmission. Consumption of fruits or fruit products (such as raw date palm juice) contaminated by the urine or saliva of infected fruit bats was the most likely cause of infection in earlier outbreaks in Bangladesh and India.
As a result, everyone should be concerned about food safety. Before eating, fruits should be thoroughly washed and peeled. It’s also a bad idea to drink raw date palm juice. Fruits that have been bitten by birds or animals should be avoided. Fruits with broken skin or scratch marks should also be avoided. Fruits that have fallen on the ground should not be consumed. All other fruits can be eaten after being properly cleansed and removing the skin.
Myth #4: The Nipah virus is not as deadly as the coronavirus
The Nipah virus is far more deadly than the coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 40% to 75% of Nipah cases are fatal. By comparison, the mortality rate for the coronavirus is believed to be about 2%.
Myth #5: You should wear a mask outdoors to prevent yourself from the virus
Only those who have direct contact with patients and medical workers should wear a mask. The virus is not transmitted through the air, so it can’t spread easily and efficiently between people like the cold, flu or measles can. Direct contact with a virus-infected person or animal is the only way to become infected.
The diagnosis of the Nipah virus is based on symptoms and confirmed by laboratory testing. If you feel that you have been exposed to the virus, it can be detected using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) from throat swabs, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, and blood analysis.