Nipah virus outbreak in India: What you need to know | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 22.05.2018
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Nipah virus outbreak in India: What you need to know

The Nipah virus has already claimed 10 lives in the Indian state of Kerala, including a 31 year-old nurse who was treating the infected. DW answers some questions about the deadly disease.

What is the Nipah virus?

The Nipah virus is a newly emerging disease that can be transmitted from its natural host, the fruit bat, to animals and humans alike. It takes its name from Sungai Nipah, the Malaysian village where it was first identified in 1998. An outbreak there among pigs left approximately 300 people infected and more than 100 people dead within a year. In an attempt to stop the outbreak, millions of pigs were euthanized, resulting in a tremendous trade loss for Malaysia at the time.

How is the Nipah virus transmitted?

Recent outbreaks have shown that the Nipah virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected humans or domesticated animals, such as cattle, pigs and cows. It is also passed on through the consumption of contaminated fruits. In 2004, a Nipah virus outbreak in Bangladesh occurred when people drank raw date palm sap. Research into this outbreak revealed that the fruit had been contaminated with bat saliva and urine.

The recent outbreak in Kerala is thought to have been caused by dead bats found in a well of a family's home in the village of Changaroth. The infection reportedly spread among family members and was passed on to others who had been in contact with the family.

Bildergalerie Nipah-Virus (Getty Images/AFP)

The current Nipah virus outbreak was caused by dead fruit bats found in a well in the Indian village of Changaroth

What are the symptoms?

Infection by the Nipah virus can result in an aggressive inflammation of the brain, called encephalitis. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incubation period spans five to 14 days, with the first signs of infection appearing after three to 14 days.

Read more: Ebola: WHO says better prepared this year than for 2014 outbreak

Initial symptoms include fever, vomiting and severe headaches, and some patients experience acute respiratory syndrome. These initial symptoms are followed by disorientation, drowsiness and mental confusion. Within one to two days the disease can result in coma and death. The Nipah virus has a mortality rate of 70 percent.

What are the treatment options?

To date, there is no vaccine against the Nipah virus, neither for humans nor animals. The only treatment option is supportive and intensive care. Affected persons are put into quarantine to prevent the spread of the disease. As the disease can be passed on from person to person, regular infection control protocols are put in place.

How can you protect yourself?

To prevent infection, people in affected areas should avoid exposure and contact with sick people, as well as domestic animals. They should also avoid consuming raw date palm sap or other raw fruits.

In Kerala, authorities are currently on high alert and have set up medical camps to control the situation and prevent a further spreading of the virus. They are also educating the public and giving specific instructions about general infection control practices and the consumption of fruits.

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