Thiruvananthapuram, May 21: The National Institute of Virology on Sunday confirmed the presence of the Nipah virus (NiV), spread by fruit bats and causing severe disease in both animals and humans, in blood samples of two persons died in Kozhikode. At least eight people have died of a mysterious viral attack in Kozhikode so far, with three deaths attributing to Nipah virus. There is no specific treatment for the ‘rare and deadly’ virus and its reported outbreak has resulted in a panic situation in the city.

A central team of the Indian Council of Medical Research will be in Kozhikode today to check the situation in Kerala, in relation to the deaths which occurred because of the Nipah virus. While three members of a family at Perambara in Kozhikode died within weeks after what seemed to be common fever aggravated quickly, two more family members were being treated at the Medical College hospital and one of them has also tested positive.

What is Nipah Virus?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nipah virus infection is a newly emerging zoonosis that causes severe disease in both animals and humans. The natural hosts of the virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus. NiV was first identified during an outbreak of disease that took place in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia in 1998. In Bangladesh in 2004, humans became infected with NiV as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats, the WHO says on its website.

What are the symptoms of Nipah virus?

In humans, NiV infection is linked to encephalitis, characterized by fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion, coma, and potentially death. A person, infected with Nipah virus, may land in coma within 24-48 hours. However, in some cases, patients may develop a respiratory illness during the initial stage of the infection.

How does Nipah virus spread?

Transmission of Nipah virus takes place through direct contact with infected bats, pigs, or from other NiV-infected people. Exposure to sick pigs and bats in endemic areas and consumption of fruits that have fallen on to the ground may get one infected with Nipah virus.

What is the treatment for Nipah virus?

There is no vaccine for either humans or animals infected with Nipah virus. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care, the WHO says. A vaccine is being developed. A recombinant sub-unit vaccine formulation protects against lethal Nipah virus challenge in cats. ALVAC Canarypox vectored Nipah F and G vaccine appears to be a promising vaccine for swine and has potential as a vaccine for humans, it adds.

How can you prevent getting Nipah virus infection?

Human-to-human transmission of NiV has been reported in recent outbreaks demonstrating a risk of transmission of the virus from infected patients to healthcare workers through contact with infected secretions, excretions, blood or tissues. Healthcare workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed NiV should implement Standard Precautions when caring for patients and handling specimens from them, according to the Fact Sheet on Nipah virus infection by WHO.