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Nipah Virus Update

Dr Mahesh Kumar, Consultant – Internal Medicine, Narayana Health City says “Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala has strongly shook the region and neighbouring states as this disease has claimed few lives in the past 48 hours. The virus spreads by consuming infected fruits like mango and fresh date palm sap contaminated by bats and also by coming in direct contact with an infected patient and sometimes infected pigs. The incubation period of the virus is 3 to 14 days and affected patients may have high grade fever, headache and cough which may rapidly progress to breathing difficulty,  respiratory failure, seizures, delirium and coma. Ribavirin is the only available medicine that can control the symptoms but only to a certain extent, if started  during early stages. Travellers should avoid visits to endemic areas until the disease is curtailed and in case of recent transit they should look out for symptoms like fever, headache and cough and will need to seek medical care immediately.

While the R&D is going on to develop treatment and a preventive vaccine for Nipah Virus, however, one of the key triggers to recent increase in disease incidence is human encroachment into breeding areas. According to WHO, there is strong evidence that emergence of bat-related viral infection communicable to humans and animals has been attributed to the loss of natural habitats of bats. As the flying fox habitat is destroyed by human activity, the bats get stressed and hungry, their immune system gets weaker, their virus load goes up and a lot of virus spills out in their urine and saliva.”

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At a time when virus related diseases like Dengue rise every year, spreading of Nipah Virus and its management is definitely something that needs urgent attention so as not to make matters worse in the coming days. Both the State and Central governments,as well as private players also have to work together
to address the situation

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this virus yet. Nipah virus is transmitted from animals to human beings and fruit bats of Pteropodidae family are known to be natural hosts of this virus.

Timely screening and diagnostic tests for those who may be in high risk zone, like the family members of those who are exhibiting symptoms of Nipah virus infection would be necessary and would go a long way in containing the spread of the disease. These people have to be examined properly with all relevant diagnostic tests.

The disease is known to have 70% mortality. While the governments have issued advisory, in case of infection, early diagnosis is the key. As a leading pathology lab, our test profiles include early detection of such infections.

Tests that are conducted includes isolating virus attempts and real time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), in which from throat and nasal swabs, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, and blood should be performed in the early stages of disease. Antibody detection may be used later. In cases where patients don’t survive, immunohistochemistry on tissues collected during autopsy may be the only way to confirm a diagnosis said by Ms. Arunima Patel, Managing Director, iGenetic Diagnostics. 

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