India in race to contain brain-damaging disease

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The deadly Nipah virus has resurfaced in India after six persons were infected with the sickness in the southern state of Kerala, two of them died.

As a precaution, schools, colleges, and tuition centres have been shuttered until September 24, while the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have increased security in border districts to prevent the virus from spreading.

According to Kerala Health Minister Veena George, 1,080 people have been recognised as having come into touch with sick individuals in the last few days. There are 327 health workers among them. The state administration is keeping an eye on these people for signs of infection.

Since 2018, Kerala has experienced four Nipah outbreaks, the most recent of which occurred in 2021. The virus killed 21 of the 23 people it infected in 2018. A single case was reported the following year, but the government’s quick action and rigorous contact-tracing likely prevented it from spreading further. A 12-year-old child died in 2021 after catching the virus.

Kerala looks to be especially vulnerable to Nipah virus epidemics since it is home to more than 40 species of bats that dwell in forests cleared for human use. The virus that is now circulating in the state is the Bangladesh strain, a deadly version with a reduced infection rate.

The country is presently sourcing monoclonal antibodies from Australia to treat sick people, according to the Times of India on Saturday. According to reports, India has ordered 20 units of the medicine. Although it was designed to treat Henipavirus, another bat-borne disease, Nipah virus victims have also received doses on a “compassionate basis.”
There is currently no vaccination for the Nipah virus, although patients are given doses of monoclonal antibodies (proteins created in laboratories that seek out foreign elements and destroy them by adhering to them).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the Nipah virus has a case fatality rate of 40% to 75%, though this might vary depending on “local capabilities for epidemiological surveillance and clinical management.” Because of its epidemic potential, the WHO has designated it as a “priority disease.”

The virus can be spread to humans from animals or infected foods, as well as from person to person. Human-to-human transmission of the Nipah virus is commonly documented among infected patients’ families and carers. The virus’s natural hosts are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, according to the WHO.

The Nipah virus was discovered in 1999 following an outbreak among Malaysian pig breeders. Outbreaks have occurred in countries other than India.