A new and deadly bat-borne virus is spreading in Asia. The Nipah virus has been spreading in India’s Kerala state this month, causing alarm.
Kerala recently introduced some “emergency measures” to combat an infectious respiratory disease transmitted by bats, according to a report by RT. It was the fourth such outbreak in Kerala since 2018. On this occasion, the state contained the virus within days and limited the fatalities to two, demonstrating why it has one of the best healthcare systems in India.
The first case in Kerala was reported from the city of Kozhikode in the northern part of the state in May 2018. During that outbreak, 21 deaths were registered. Kerala likewise battled outbreaks in Kozhikode in 2019 and Ernakulam in 2021, before new cases appeared this year in Kozhikode.
The Nipah virus (NiV) infection, also called the Nipah virus encephalitis, is named after the Malaysian village of Kampung Sungai Nipah, where it was first found. It is a zoonotic disease that spreads from animals to humans. An outbreak of the virus in Malaysia in 1998 and 1999 started from infected pigs and resulted in 265 cases and 108 deaths. (According to a Kerala health department source, the pig is an intermediary host, transmitting the virus from bat to human.) The strain then spread to Singapore in 1999, leading to 11 infections and one death. –RT
The virus has infected 237 people in Bangladesh, since 2001; 150 deaths were recorded prior to 2011, before cases gradually dropped to zero in 2016. This year, Bangladesh has recorded 11 infections, resulting in eight deaths. In India, the first Nipah outbreak was reported in the city of Siliguri in West Bengal in 2001, where there were 66 cases and 45 deaths.
Dr. M. Muraleedharan, the national convener of the Indian Medical Association’s Antimicrobial Resistance Committee, said bats carry around 4,000 viruses, including Nipah. “The virus will live in the body of bats, while it is fatal for other animals,” he told RT. “(Nipah) is not present in all bats, but in 3% of them. The virus will multiply in the body of each of the 3% and will then spread to others.
Once the ruling class of India decided it was the Nipah virus, containment zones were declared in nine local bodies, several divisions of the Kozhikode Corporation, and in various wards of the Feroke Municipality in the same district. Asha (Accredited Social Health Activist) members visited homes daily to monitor people and collect data. Intensive contact tracing of patients was based on their route maps.
The state had deployed similar methods for COVID-19 management. Movement in the containment zones was restricted and was allowed only for emergencies. Only shops selling essentials were permitted to open, while educational institutions and banks remained closed until the restrictions were lifted.
If this spreads, this will cause real-world harm that the public will notice, unlike COVID (unless you watched the TV). It may be important to watch this outbreak for now.