Nipah is also considered an "emerging" virus because its discovery occurred relatively recently: in the last two decades. Although there have only been a few outbreaks, Nipah is considered a threat to public health because it can infect a wide variety of animals and cause serious illness and death in people, according to the World Health Organization.
Infection with the Nipah virus may not cause symptoms, or may cause fatal encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), with a variety of possible diseases between those two extremes.
The natural host is a particular family of bats, Pteropodidae, which can transmit serious diseases to farm animals, including pigs, resulting in substantial economic losses.
The name comes from Sungai Nipah, a village in the peninsula of Malaysia where the virus was identified after farmers became ill in 1998 and 1999.
How is it transmitted?
It is also believed that eating fruits or fruit products (such as raw palm juice) contaminated with urine or saliva from infected bats caused human infections.
The Nipah virus can also spread directly from person to person, with family members or medical personnel at higher risk since transmission requires very close contact with the patient or the deceased.
What are the symptoms of the disease?
Between four and 14 days may elapse between infection and the patient's first symptoms However, according to the WHO, an incubation period of 45 days was reported.
Commonly, once infected, a person develops flu-like symptoms of fever, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting and sore throat. Sometimes, this is followed by dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness and signs of encephalitis. Some patients will develop severe respiratory problems, including pneumonia or acute respiratory distress that would require mechanical badistance to breathe.
In the most severe cases, encephalitis and seizures will progress to coma within 24 to 48 hours.
How deadly is it?
Scientists estimate the mortality rate at 40% to 75%, which varies according to the outbreak. Most people who survive acute encephalitis caused by Nipah virus recover completely, but some former patients report long-term neurological conditions. About 20% of patients are left with a seizure disorder and personality changes, while a small number of relapses.
How is it treated?
There are no drugs or vaccines to specifically treat or prevent Nipah virus infection.
Supportive medical care is the recommended treatment, so health workers and caregivers do everything possible to alleviate symptoms, such as trying to lower the fever cooling the patient.
Where is it?
Outbreaks have occurred in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and India.
It is believed that the patients had contact with animals, consumed raw palm juice or had contact with infected persons. Other regions and countries that harbor related bat species may also be at risk of Nipah virus infections, such as Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Madagascar, Ghana and the Philippines, according to the WHO.
How common is it? is?
The Nipah virus is very rare. From 1998 to 2015, WHO reported more than 600 cases, with subsequent outbreaks of high mortality in India and Bangladesh, although the total number of people affected is unknown.