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Nipah virus suspected behind ‘unnatural’ deaths in India: Causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatment

The Kerala Health Department has issued a health alert in Kozhikode district after two “unnatural” deaths by suspected Nipah virus infection were reported on August 30 and September 11. Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus that has been responsible for outbreaks of severe respiratory and neurological disease in humans where the risk factors and causes of Nipah virus transmission are primarily linked to its origin in fruit bats and subsequent spillover into other animals and humans.

Nipah virus suspected behind ‘unnatural’ deaths in India: Causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatment (Representative image)

Risk Factors of Nipah Virus:

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Aniket Mule, Consultant Internal Medicine at Wockhardt Hospitals in Mumbai’s Mira Road, listed the causes as –

1. Fruit Bat Reservoir: Fruit bats, particularly the Pteropus genus, are natural hosts of Nipah virus. Their excretions and saliva may contain the virus, and direct contact with these bats or consumption of fruits contaminated by their saliva can lead to transmission.

2. Intermediate Hosts: The virus can be transmitted to humans via intermediate hosts such as pigs. Close contact with infected pigs or their contaminated tissues can result in human infection.

3. Human-to-Human Transmission: In some cases, Nipah virus can spread from person to person through close contact, especially within healthcare settings. This mode of transmission poses a significant risk during outbreaks.

Symptoms of Nipah Virus:

Dr Aniket Mule revealed, “The symptoms of Nipah virus infection can vary from mild to severe and may include fever, headache, dizziness, cough, and in severe cases, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) leading to altered consciousness, seizures, and coma. Respiratory symptoms can also occur.”

Treatment for Nipah Virus:

According to Dr Aniket Mule, there is no specific antiviral treatment for Nipah virus infection. He said, “Supportive care is essential, including maintaining respiratory function, managing fever and pain, and providing intravenous fluids. Experimental treatments and antiviral drugs have been explored in some cases, but their efficacy remains uncertain. Given the serious nature of Nipah virus and the potential for outbreaks, it is crucial to follow guidelines and recommendations from public health authorities and seek immediate medical attention if suspected cases arise. Additionally, research and surveillance efforts continue to deepen our understanding of this virus and may lead to improved treatment options in the future.”

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