Although most of the world’s leading health and communicable disease experts are focused on the Congo this week and its deadly Ebola outbreak, an alarming new virus spreading in Southern India has officials on high alert.
The Nipah virus has exploded in recent weeks, causing concern because previous outbreaks had killed approximately 75 percent of patients. The virus is passed from a wide variety of animals to humans, but little else is known about the disease. The Nipah virus was only discovered in the last few decades, having first been identified when farmers in a small village in Malaysia fell ill in 1998 and 1999. The name came from the village’s name, Sungai Nipah. So far, outbreaks have been identified in Malaysia, India, Singapore, and Bangladesh.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ten people have passed away due to complications from the virus during this current outbreak. Included in this number are nurses who were treating the patients. All of the infected patients are known to have had contact with animals or infected people, or more interestingly, consumed raw date palm juice. The Pteropodidae family of bats is believed to be the natural host of the Nipah virus, spreading the disease to various farm animals including pigs.
The WHO has said that the incubation period is an average of four and 14 days. The disease first presents with common flu-like symptoms including fever, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and vomiting. Following the initial onset, patients will become drowsy and dizzy, often slipping in and out of consciousness, presenting with signs of encephalitis (brain inflammation). In the most serious case, seizures will develop, sending the patient into a coma within a few days. Survivors of the virus are often left with lasting side effects such as seizure disorders and other long-term neurological disorders.
Since the WHO began tracking the Nipah virus, there have been approximately 600 reported cases of the disease.