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It’s unfortunate that the Nipah virus (NiV) is grabbing headlines and our attention. The only thing deadlier than the virus is the misinformation and the rumours that are floating around.
I firmly believe that knowledge is the antidote to fear and I’m here to give a low down on the virus that’s causing all the frenzy.
Malaysia in September 1998 was the first to report an NiV outbreak followed closely by Singapore in March 1999. In fact, the virus owes its name to a Malaysian village from where it was reported first. Bangladesh has also had outbreaks and now we have it in our own backyard. India has had an outbreak before but this time around there is heightened awareness.
It has already claimed a dozen people and many more are suspected to be infected and are hospitalised.
Malaysia and Singapore got it from pigs infected with the virus and typically the people who got infected were those living in environments where such pigs were around. However, in Bangladesh it’s the fruit bats who have been known to cause infection. There is a local practice of extracting sap from palm trees which are also inhabited by these bats. The sap gets contaminated with the bat’s secretions (urine, faeces, saliva etc.) which causes the spread of infection. Closer home, in Kerala too, it is being traced to a well which had bats living in it. It correlates well with the season when young bats leave the nest to fly (April- June with a peak in May)! Once infection sets in, there is a human to human spread. As the virus is found in blood, urine, saliva and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), the spread happens when in contact with these secretions.
It starts with non-specific muscle pain and fever. The other symptoms could be:
The incubation period is 5-14 days, with the patient showing rapid deterioration, severe respiratory infection, inflammation of brain tissue (encephalitis) reflecting as mental confusion, rigidity of neck and sometimes coma too.
Suspected (clinical) Nipah case: Patient coming from the community affected by an outbreak and has:
Probable Nipah case: Suspect cases, and/or who died before complete diagnostic specimens could be collected
Confirmed Nipah case:Suspected/probable cases who have been confirmed by tests from the laboratory, i.e.
(The tests are currently being done at National Institute of Virology, Pune)
Remember that the virus can stay in the human body for months and may reactivate itself much later. Convulsions and changes in personality are expected in such patients.
I hope these words help calm your nerves. As you can see, there is not much we can do when infection sets in; it is increased awareness and vigilance that may help in early detection and control of it. Do not spread rumours or succumb to them.
P.S.: I cannot end this without paying my respects to the nurse Lini, who died in the line of her duty, and the brave health care workers as well, who are doing their jobs knowing fully well the risks involved.
First published here.
Image via Pixabay
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I am a doctor with an MD in Clinical Microbiology, working at KEM Hospital, Mumbai.
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