Q: What is Nipah Virus?
A: Nipah virus was initially isolated in 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis (brain fever) and respiratory illness amongst pig farmers and people in close contact with pigs in Malaysia.
Q: How is the infection transmitted?
A: The transmission of Nipah virus to humans may occur after direct contact with infected bats and infected pigs. Person to person transmission is most commonly seen in family and caregivers of infected patients. It can also occur by consumption of raw date palm sap contaminated by bat excretions.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms?
A: This infection is associated with encephalitis. The incubation period of the virus is 5-14 days. Initially it begins with fever and headache , followed by drowsiness and disorientation. Eventually, it progresses to coma. Associated respiratory illness is also observed in many. It is a severe illness and almost 40% of patients could lose their lives from complications.
Q: How is it diagnosed?
A: The diagnosis is done by ELISA test, which is currently done at National Institute of Virology, Pune. It can also be diagnosed by a test called PCR or by viral cultures.
Q: How is it treated?
A: Supportive care is the mainstay of treatment and infected patients may require intensive care monitoring. There is no specific treatment for the viral infection as yet.
Q: How do I prevent it?
A: Reducing the risk of bat-to-human transmission – Controlling the access of bats to anything edible to humans, especially date palm sap and fresh foods.
Reducing the risk of animal-to-human transmission – Using gloves and protective clothing while handling sick animals and avoiding contact with infected pigs.
Reducing the risk of human-to-human transmission – Avoiding contact with infected people and washing hands thoroughly after visiting sick people. Barrier nursing and infection control measures are vital to prevent the spread of infection within hospitals.
Dr. Mahesh Balsekar
Senior Consultant ( Paediatric Medicine )