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Nipah outbreak in India: Should we really worry or is it an unnecessary alarm?

11:38 AM Sep 18, 2023 IST | Ground Report
nipah outbreak in india  should we really worry or is it an unnecessary alarm

At least seven villages in the Kozhikode district of Kerala, have closed schools as health authorities declared them as containment zones for the Nipah virus, which has already claimed the lives of two people.

Many newspapers have made this news the headline, with some adding that this virus is 75 times more lethal than the one that causes COVID-19. Naturally, what happened in 2020 has brought back some pretty ugly memories. But to what extent should we fear this news?


Any virus that causes outbreaks and fatal cases should receive attention. However, we must also remember that the Nipah virus is not new and its capacity to cause pandemics is very limited.

Researchers first described it in 1998 and 1999, after detecting two large outbreaks in Malaysia and Singapore. In fact, its name originates from Nipah, the Malaysian village, where the virus was first extracted from a human fatality.


Both the containment measures carried out and the difficulty of this virus in spreading have extinguished the outbreaks relatively quickly. The virus, which has already been classified as notifiable and must be studied in depth by the World Health Organization to search for vaccines and treatments, is worrying. However, news like these days should not cause global panic.


What is Nipah virus and how is it spread?

The Nipah virus is an RNA virus, like COVID-19, which causes it. The orthomyxovirus family includes measles, although it is very different.


People believe that humans contracted this disease due to the decision to install pig farms surrounded by fruit trees in Singapore and Malaysia. These trees attracted a species of fruit bats, called flying foxes, in which the Nipah virus had previously developed.

Infected animals usually spread this through contact with secretions. Therefore, when pigs contacted their feces, they became ill en masse. Pigs then spread the disease to humans, mainly through direct contact with them. People also believe that bats could have directly transmitted the contagion.

For instance, if a person ate sap from the palm trees on which the bats deposited their feces or climbed the trunk of the tree, they could become infected.

The same thing happens from humans to humans. The main route of infection is contact with feces, urine, blood, and other secretions.

Symptoms begin to appear between 5 and 14 days after contact, starting mainly with headache and confusion. High fever, drowsiness, difficulty breathing, and, in the most severe cases, coma and death follow. The virus mainly affects the respiratory and nervous systems, causing very serious encephalitis in the latter.

The mortality of the Nipah virus has varied from one outbreak to another, but is approximately between 50% and 75%.

Deadly Nipah virus limits pandemic

The fact that the Nipah virus is so deadly is dramatic for people who suffer from it. There are no treatments or vaccines , so you can only treat the symptoms and wait for the patients' own immune system to fight it.

Unfortunately, he does not always emerge victorious. People become seriously ill and often end up dying. That's terrible, of course, but it's also why this virus would hardly give rise to a pandemic . The patients feel so bad that as soon as they start to feel symptoms they stay in bed. They don't socialize, much less travel. The close contact that is needed for contagion is limited to the people in the immediate environment; it does not usually spread over long distances.

Therefore, it would be very difficult for the Nipah virus to give rise to a pandemic like COVID-19. We must remember that this disease generally has a very mild course. For this reason, some infected people have lived a completely normal life, or have even traveled to the other side of the world, turning it into an unstoppable virus.

The lesson we should draw from all this is that science, if it had enough resources for it, should also focus on viruses like Nipah. It has not reached Europe or the United States and the media scares us, but when we see that it does not reach us we relax. However, there are many people suffering and dying because of it. That should worry us. It should be essential to allocate financial resources to find vaccines and treatments for people in affected countries. Although the rest of us don't get splashed.

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