Nipah: altered state of consciousness, coma, vomiting… what is this virus that worries Asian authorities?

Nipah: altered state of consciousness, coma, vomiting… what is this virus that worries Asian authorities?

Nipah virus, first identified in 1999, is currently prevalent in Kerala, India. This has already led to the death of two people, and the number of victims may increase. Health authorities are taking measures to prevent an outbreak of the epidemic.

It is included in the list of nine priority diseases compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO). In India, authorities in Kerala are struggling to contain the epidemic, while the Nipah virus has killed two people in the south of that state. At this stage, four positive cases have been confirmed. Public gatherings were limited and some schools closed. This is the fourth epidemic in this region since 2018.

Nipah virus disease is a zoonosis transmitted to humans through bats and pigs, and through human-to-human transmission. It can also be transmitted through contaminated food. “Although Nipah virus has caused several outbreaks in Asia, it can infect a large number of animal species and cause serious illness and death in humans, making it a source of public health concern,” WHO says. Without treatment or a vaccine, the virus is fatal in 40–75% of cases.

What are the symptoms?

The infection may be asymptomatic. Otherwise, the first symptoms are:

  • Heat ;
  • headache;
  • myalgia;
  • vomit;
  • sore throat.

“Dizziness, drowsiness, altered state of consciousness and neurological signs suggestive of acute encephalitis may then appear. Some subjects may also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory failure,” WHO adds. The main complication is acute encephalitis, accompanied by convulsions. Severe symptoms that progress to coma within 24–48 hours.

The incubation period is estimated to be 4 to 14 days. If symptoms are nonspecific, diagnosis may be difficult and may delay the implementation of effective measures to prevent an outbreak. A PCR test or detection of specific antibodies helps confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment is symptomatic. The patient may require intensive care to treat respiratory and neurological complications.

Found in Malaysia among pig farmers.

Nipah virus was first identified in 1999 among pig farmers in Malaysia. At that time, 300 people were infected, more than a hundred died. It has been detected almost every year since 2001 in Bangladesh and has been observed several times in eastern India. According to WHO, other countries may witness the emergence of the virus. This is the case in Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Thailand, where the virus was found in bats, Nipah’s natural reservoir.

According to WHO, Nipah is capable of triggering a pandemic, like Covid-19 and Zika. The fact that it has been included in the list of priority pathogenic diseases is aimed at pushing governments and laboratories to find vaccines, treatments and screening tests for all these diseases that threaten the human species.

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