An infectious disease that causes brain swelling 75 times more than COVID, the Nipah Virus is in the limelight with an outbreak in the Indian state of Kerala. It is suspected to cause the next global pandemic for years to come if the world fails to act immediately.
Fruit bat-borne viruses have been extensively studied by Uniformed Services University (USU) because they can cause outbreaks. The virus is so dangerous that it has the potential to kill three out of every four people it infects.
It is becoming increasingly more urgent to develop drugs and vaccines to combat the disease which is brought about by fruit bats in direct contact with humans.
The Nipah virus first appeared in Malaysia and Singapore in the late 1990s, causing significant sickness epidemics in humans and livestock.
A greater proportion of recent cases of Nipah infections have affected Bangladesh, the Philippines, and India.
Human fatalities from Nipah infections are more than 75 percent, while the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has a fatality rate of less than one percent.
Hendra, another closely related virus, was discovered in Australia in the 1990s, resulting in repeat infections of horses and posing a risk to humans. The fruit bats (flying foxes) have also been found to naturally carry Hendra, as they have carried Nipah.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified them as biothreat agents in the United States.
Nipah-B, the strain of the Nipah virus found in Bangladesh and India, is of particular concern. Its lethality and ability to spread from one infected individual to another make it most dangerous.
Between 2001 and 2011, Bangladesh experienced eleven outbreaks of Nipah – 196 people were infected, 150 died.
During the 2018 outbreak in Kerala, India, seventeen out of nineteen people who were infected died, accounting for 89% of the total deaths.
To ensure that Nipah-infected patients were isolated within Kerala, a health officer familiar with Ebola outbreak protocols has been mobilized.
The state-enhanced protocols for health workers wearing masks as well as the decontamination of surfaces were also strengthened.
In 2019, Kerala was able to trace 329 people who had been in contact with a young student with the disease. With an extensive contact tracing system that prevented it from spreading, no deaths have been reported.
The resources of Kerala are not available to all states in India. The virus will likely spread to other parts of India and abroad, causing a pandemic.
This could occur despite the fact that high case-fatality rates sometimes slow infectious disease spread since patients die before they can spread the disease.
If the infection were to mutate in a way that allowed the virus to spread more easily, the results would be utterly devastating.
High Rate of Mortality, Low Rate of Transmission: The Story of the Nipah Virus
The World Health Organization (WHO) chooses which pathogens to invest in for research and development each year based on a large list of potential diseases.
They concentrate on those that represent the greatest threat to human health, those that have the capacity to spread epidemically, and those for which no vaccine exists. The Nipah virus ranks among their top ten deadly viruses.
Multiple factors make Nipah dangerous. Indeed, the disease’s long incubation period, which can last up to 45 days in extreme cases, allows an infected host plenty of time to transmit it without ever knowing it.
A high likelihood of spreading is caused by its ability to infect so many animals. Either direct contact with the virus or consuming contaminated food can lead to the disease.
Nipah virus symptoms can include coughing, sore throats, pain, and fatigue. As a result of the virus, the brain may swell and lead to encephalitis, resulting in seizures and death.
Human life can be profoundly impacted by these zoonotic infections. SARS fatality rates are around 10%, Nipah fatalities range from 40% to 75%, and Ebola fatalities have reached 88%.
For COVID-19, the infection fatality rate is less than 1%.
Climate Change and Environmental Disasters: The Prominent Reasons for the Surging Pandemics
Humans used to be able to avoid bats, but as the population grows, humans have begun to alter the world’s ecosystems and destroy wild habitats for growing population demands.
This increases the spread of disease. Agricultural intensification, deforestation, and urbanization all increase the risk of these diseases spreading and transmitting.
Forest fires and local drought had forced the bats to flee their natural habitat and migrate to fruit trees – trees are grown on farms where pigs live.
Stress leads to bats shedding more viruses. Viruses originate in bats, and then they spread to pigs, then to farmers.
A combination of both relocation and contact with species they normally would not encounter has caused them to alter their behavior.
A fruit bat lives mainly in thick forest regions where there are many fruit trees. The bats find new habitats as their habitat is damaged or destroyed, such as a house roost.
In COVID, the World was Lucky, But Relying on Luck is Never a Choice
By all scientific measures this time, the world was fortunate enough to avoid the disastrous consequences of COVID-19.
We were able to swiftly produce a cadre of successful vaccinations because COVID-19 was significantly less lethal than its predecessors and far less contagious than prior pandemic viruses.
But counting on luck is not a strategy. To counter future threats, the world needs to take more constructive actions, such as establishing more high-tech laboratories and creating crisis funds.
Organized structures and leadership are needed to address global health crises. Biopharma companies and governments need to work together to develop a pandemic preparedness ecosystem.
Besides better diagnostics, therapy, and vaccines, better surveillance will enable rapid identification, contact tracking, and spillover investigation. It will also contribute to a better understanding of how bats infected with the Nipah virus infect other animals.
Local communities should be engaged, too, both by raising awareness about risky behaviors that could lead to exposure to potential infection sources and by ensuring infection prevention and control measures in health facilities. Forests and pastureland could be better stewarded to prevent spill-overs.
Even though Nipah has received little attention in the media, its persistence and spread capability emphasize the need for a pandemic preparedness mindset.
Despite the fact that the Nipah virus’s contagious transmission of the virus is relatively rare compared to respiratory viruses such as influenza and SARS, the ability to spread widely cannot be ruled out. This is the reason why the world is mobilized in curbing it.