There is an ongoing Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala, India, with six confirmed cases and two deaths. The outbreak is thought to be caused by the Bangladesh variant of the virus, which is known to be more transmissible between humans.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has not confirmed any case in Nigeria recently but it did in the past with one case of Nipah detected in 2012.
In 2023, 11 cases of Nipah virus have been confirmed in Bangladesh, including eight deaths. This is the highest number of cases reported in Bangladesh in a single year since the virus was first identified in the country in 2001.
Globally, Nipah virus outbreaks have been reported in several other countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. However, the majority of cases have occurred in Bangladesh and India.
With the rate of travel traffic from Asia to Nigeria higher than from other continents, Nigeria might need to intensify surveillance along border routes.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in 2022, there were over 1.5 million international arrivals to Nigeria from Asia, compared to about one million from Europe, 0.5 million from North America, and 0.2 million from South America.
There are many Nigerians living and working in countries in some of these affected countries and who often travel back and forth to Nigeria to visit family and friends, or run businesses.
What is Nipah virus?
Nipah virus is a zoonotic virus that spreads between animals and people. The natural reservoir of the virus is fruit bats, also known as flying foxes. Nipah virus can also infect pigs and people.
In infected people, it causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis. The virus can also cause severe disease in animals such as pigs, resulting in significant economic losses for farmers.
Mode of Spread
Nipah virus can spread from infected bats to people through contact with their saliva, urine, or other bodily fluids. People can also become infected by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Nipah virus can also spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
During the later outbreaks in Bangladesh and India, the Nipah virus spread directly from human to human through close contact with people’s secretions and excretions.
In Siliguri, India in 2001, WHO said the transmission of the virus was also reported within a healthcare setting, where 75 percent of cases occurred among hospital staff or visitors.
From 2001 to 2008, around half of reported cases in Bangladesh were due to human-to-human transmission through providing care to infected patients.
The symptoms of Nipah virus infection can vary from mild to severe. Some people may experience no symptoms at all. Others may develop flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, muscle pain, and fatigue. In some cases, Nipah virus infection can progress to encephalitis, a serious brain infection.
Some people can also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress. Encephalitis and seizures occur in severe cases, progressing to coma within 24 to 48 hours.
According to WHO, the incubation period (interval from infection to the onset of symptoms) is believed to range from 4 to 14 days. However, an incubation period as long as 45 days has been reported.
There is no specific treatment for Nipah virus infection. Treatment is supportive and includes providing fluids, oxygen, and medications to control the symptoms. Some people with Nipah virus infection may also require treatment in an intensive care unit.
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from Nipah virus infection such as avoiding contact with fruit bats and their droppings.
Do not eat or drink contaminated food or water. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with animals or their bodily fluids.
Avoid contact with people who are sick with Nipah virus.
Risk of infection
The risk of Nipah virus infection depends on your exposure to the virus. People who live or work in close contact with animals, such as farmers and veterinarians, are at higher risk of infection. People who travel to areas where Nipah virus is known to occur are also at increased risk.
The outlook for Nipah virus infection varies depending on the severity of the illness. People with mild illness may recover completely. However, people with severe illness, such as encephalitis, have a high mortality rate.