10 July 2018

Lab Chat

The Nipah virus is a relatively recently discovered infectious disease transmitted from animals to humans, with deadly effects on both. Named for the town of Kampung Sungai Nipah in Malaysia were it was first discovered in 1998, Nipah represents just one of an estimated two million known and unknown viruses that affect human health.

In the most recent outbreak of Nipah in Kerala, India, at least 17 people have been killed by the virus. Aid efforts are ongoing to try and contain the deadly virus and prevent it from spreading any further.

Symptoms of the virus

Nipah is so deadly precisely because its symptoms vary from subject to subject. In some people, it can present almost no symptoms at all, while in others it can manifest itself in the form of fever and flu. From here, things can quickly deteriorate and Nipah can often result in acute respiratory syndrome, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). All three can be terminal.

How is Nipah transmitted?

The natural hosts of the Nipah virus have been positively identified as the Pteropus genus of Pteropodidae family, otherwise known as fruit bats. However, the virus can also easily infect pigs and other mammals and in the initial 1998 outbreak, pigs were intermediary hosts between the bats and humans.

In all other outbreaks since, there have been no intermediary hosts, with humans contracting the disease after consuming the sap from date palms that has been infected by the bats. It is also possible for humans to pass the virus on to one another, making it even more difficult to control.

The latest outbreak

The most recent outbreak was first reported in May 19th, 2018 in the Kozhikode region of Kerala, India. It’s the first time that the virus has surfaced in the southern part of the country, although there have been previous epidemics in West Bengal in 2001 and 2007. However, it has occurred over 10 times since 2001 in neighbouring Bangladesh.

As of the first of June 2018, 17 people have been killed by the disease among a total number of 18 confirmed cases. It is being dealt with by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), along with overseas support.


Abu Dhabi lending a helping hand

The healthcare provider VPS Healthcare is based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and has responded to the crisis by sending aid to the Kerala government. A chartered flight carrying invaluable supplies, including masks, Personal Protective Equipment kits and body bags arrived in Kerala late last week to help efforts on the ground.

“We commend the Kerala Government and the health authorities for their diligence in helping control the spread of this virus,” announced Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, who is the managing director and current chairman of VPS. “As health professionals, it is our responsibility to help in any capacity the State needs. We will continue to work with the Kerala government to help eradicate the threat posed by the Nipah virus.”

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