Deadly Nipah virus, which can harm brain, experiencing outbreak in India

Posted at 11:05 PM, May 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-30 19:32:45-04

(RNN) – An outbreak of a virus with deadly effects on the brain has killed 14 people in the southern Indian state of Kerala and set off worries about its potential spread.

The Nipah virus can lead to inflammation of the brain, resulting sometimes in a coma, and is fatal in 40-75 percent of cases, according to the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s transmitted through infected bats, pigs, or other infected people.

According to the WHO, “there is no effective treatment.”

The current outbreak was first reported earlier this month in Kozhikode on India’s southwest coast. Officials have confirmed 16 cases, with another 12 suspected.

The latest death occurred this week.

According to an Indian newspaper, the Hindustan Times, four individuals in one family died in a village called Changaroth, more than an hour north of Kozhikode. As many as 90 families there and in two neighboring villages have left their homes.

People have been avoiding fruit in region, with the original transmission believed to have come from a fruit bat. And the United Arab Emirates, which imports much of its fruits and vegetables from India, banned produce from Kerala this week.

Officials in particular have warned against consuming the kinds of dates, or their byproducts, that fruit bats feed on.

“After this virus problem, sales have been really bad. Everyone is saying ‘fruit bats this, and fruit bats that,’ so nothing is getting sold,” a vendor told Al Jazeera.

The disease was first discovered in humans in Malaysia in 1999, and outbreaks have occurred periodically in Bangladesh and India. It hasn’t had this serious an episode in more than 10 years, though. During the initial 1999 outbreak in Malaysia, more than 100 people died, according to the CDC.

In addition to the brain swelling that is the disease’s most serious symptom, people infected also can experience flu-like symptoms like fever and headaches.

The WHO says the incubation period ranges from 4-18 days. There is no vaccine for the virus.

So far, officials in India believe the disease hasn’t spread. And right now the WHO does not recommend trade or travel restrictions related to the outbreak.

But in a list of diseases likely to cause major epidemics the WHO keeps, Nipah is one of eight included alongside the likes of Ebola and SARS.

And while it appears contained at the moment, the Times of India reports, “Panic about Nipah virus is knowing no bounds.”

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