Nipah Virus : Karnataka at high alert: suspected cases of rare virus, fanning fears


The Karnataka ( south India) state is on high alert, especially in areas bordering Kerala, after 11 people died of the mysterious Nipah Virus in Kozhikode over the last few days.

The Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Department has directed primary healthcare centres in Chamarajnagar and Mysuru districts, which share the border with Kerala, to be alert and to report any patients from Kerala with suspected Nipah cases. A team from Delhi has been sent to Kerala and based on the report, national guidelines will be issued.

Those travelling to Kerala should be cautious when and if they come in contact with Nipah-infected people. Avoid eating fruits fallen on the ground and drinking raw date palm sap in Kerala. Avoid coming in contact with sick domestic animals and pigs.

Nipah Virus infection is zoonotic, which means the disease has spread from animals to humans, and can causes severe conditions in animals and humans. The natural host of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus. The virus transmits through direct contact with infected bats, pigs or from other NiV-infected people through touch or body fluids. Disease is contagious and can spread from person-to-person.

The infection in humans can cause a wide range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to acute respiratory syndrome (cough, breathlessness and respiratory distress) and fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). After exposure to virus, symptoms start after an incubation period of 5-14 days. Usual symptoms are fever and headache for 3-10 days followed by drowsiness, confusion, seizures and altered sensorium. Signs and symptoms can progress rapidly to coma and death in 24-48 hours. Nipah Virus encephalitis is fatal with a high mortality rate.

Stressing should be on precautions. The people in affected areas should avoid eating or drinking date palm sap (raw date palm sap, a sweet drink popular in the winter, when the sap is easy to tap from trees pierced with a spigot. A bat clings to a palm tree as it eats sap just above a collection jar). Disease can be prevented by avoiding animals that are known to be infected and using appropriate personal protective equipment.

There is no vaccine for the Nipah virus, carried by fruit bats and spread  through contact with bodily fluids, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. Treatment for the virus, which has a mortality rate of about 70 percent, is supportive care.

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