In March this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) had come out with a list to identify, prioritise and accelerate research and development for diseases that lack efficacious drugs and/or vaccines, and pose public health risk. Nipah virus was one of them.

According to the report, part of the 2018 annual review of R&D Blueprint, these diseases pose major public health risks and further research and development is needed, including surveillance and diagnostics.

The seven other potential global disease threats on the WHO list, each lacking an effective drug or vaccine, were Disease X, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF); Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease; Lassa fever; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS); and Zika.

What is Nipah virus?

Nipah Virus is an infectious disease that first broke out in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999. It first appeared in domestic pigs, and has been found in other domestic animals including dogs, cats, goats, horses and sheep. The infection is also known to spread through human-to-human transmission.

Hospital workers in charge of taking care of the infected patients, those handling laboratory samples, as well as people working in slaughterhouses should therefore take adequate precautions.

The organism that causes Nipah virus encephalitis is an RNA (Ribonucleic acid) virus of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus, and is related to Hendra virus.

Nipah gets its name from the Malaysian village where the person from whom the virus was first isolated died due to it. The virus figures on the list of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code and must be reported to the OIE.

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How does Nipah spread?

Transmission of Nipah virus takes place through direct contact with infected bats, pigs, or from other NiV-infected people. It can also be transmitted through fruits if someone eats a fruit infected by a carrier of the virus. People are cautioned to not consume fruits that have fallen to the ground.

The disease spreads through fruit bats or ‘flying foxes’ of the genus Pteropus — considered natural reservoir hosts of Nipah and Hendra viruses. The virus is present in bat urine, faeces, saliva, and birthing fluids.

It is presumed that the first incidence of NiV infection occurred when pigs in Malaysian farms came in contact with the infected bats.

What are Nipah symptoms?

Patients suffering from Nipah first complain of breathing difficulty, a terrible headache and fever. Other symptoms are drowsiness, disorientation and mental confusion.  The conditions later progress to brain fever. Patients can slip into coma, and die too. Death rate among infected people is 74.5 per cent, according to reports. In Malaysia, up to 50 per cent of the people who were infected with the virus died.

What is the treatment for Nipah?

There is no specific treatment for Nipah virus, and no vaccine has been developed yet. Medical experts say intensive supportive care is the primary treatment.

(With agency inputs)