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Nipah virus infection returns in Kerala: Here's what we know so far

As Nipah virus (NiV) has reared its head again after three years in Kerala (2018), DTNext attempts to throw light on the virus, the challenge it poses and the methods people could ensure protection from the virus.

Nipah virus infection returns in Kerala: Heres what we know so far
File photo from 2018 of doctors in protective gear during the Nipah virus outbreak.


One of the most dreaded disease in recent times, with India in context, is the Nipah virus. This asymptomatic virus first was detected in Malaysia in 1999. Two years later in 2001 and then in 2007, it hit India, in West Bengal. After a long pause the virus stuck in 2018 in Kerala.

The 2018 outbreak claimed 17 lives and was brought under control with lesser impact. The latest casualty is a 12-year-old boy from Kerala's Kozhikode.


Nipah virus can be transmitted to humans through bat and other animals like pig. The bat family Pteropodipae, commonly known as fruit bats, is the natural host of this virus. These bats usually do not display the disease.


Humans will be infected with the virus if they come in unprotected contact with fruits that has traces of an infected bat's saliva or urine. The infection can also be transmitted through unprotected exposure of pigs' excrements or their contaminated tissues, as in the case of Malaysia and Singapore. Human-to-Human transmission too is a possibility without proper protection, Siliguri in 2001 had set such a grim precedence with 75 percent of the virus cases being detected in the hospital visitors of those infected.


Unfortunately, there are no specific markers for the Nipah virus yet. The detection is possible only when the patient is in an acute and recovering state. This is made possible by RT-PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction) test from the bodily fluids and antibody detection via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA.


The virus can cause respiratory infections ranging from mild to severe stages. Fatal encephalitis too can be a marker. People infected would generally feel feverish and may experience headaches, vomit and muscle pain. Acute encephalitis could cause dizziness, altered consciousness and drowsiness. This can also lead to seizures which then progress to coma within 24 to 48 hours in severe cases. The time period taken for the infection to cause symptoms are not specific, it is usually from day 4 to 14, but the incubation has also taken to a period of 45 days. Acute encephalitis survivors face lasting impact in their lives, as many as 20 percent of the infected have to live with residual neurological consequences.

Treatment and prevention

Medical science is yet to crack the code in finding a medicine or vaccine for Nipah virus. But intensive care used for the treatment of neurological and respiratory complications is followed. Culling of infected pigs can be useful prevention technique, which needs to done under expert supervision and with necessary protection gear. Palm date juice should be boiled immediately after collection and protective coverings need to be used to stave away bats from the farm. Fruits should be peeled and washed carefully, fruits with signs of bat bites should be put away. Covid-19 rule of regular hand washing and protected physical contact will be helpful when taking care of sick people.

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