As the country continues to wrestle with the Covid infection, especially with the threat of the Delta Plus variant, there is a new concern for experts. According to news reports, scientists from the Pune-based National Institute of Virology (NIV) have found Nipah virus antibodies in two species of bats in Maharashtra. This is a first, and has, therefore, led to a scare.
Nipah virus (NiV) is said to be on the top-10 priority list of pathogens identified by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Indianexpress.com had recently reported that till date, India has had four episodes of NiV outbreaks. The first evidence of NiV infection was reported in Siliguri district, West Bengal in 2001, followed by Nadia district in West Bengal in 2007. The presence of NiV antibodies were detected in Mynaguri and Dubri district of Assam and Cooch Behar of West Bengal. A third outbreak occurred in Kozhikode district of Kerala state in 2018 with 18 case fatalities, followed by another outbreak in the same state in 2019.
This time, the prevalence of NiV in bats has been picked up in some species from a cave in Mahabaleshwar, a popular hill station in Satara district, Maharashtra.
To understand more about this virus and how it affects human beings, we reached out to a doctor.
According to Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, HOD and senior consultant, pulmonology at Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad, NiV is a specific type of virus which spreads through bats. “India has handled it very nicely in the past. Its symptoms are like any other respiratory viral illnesses, which include nausea, vomiting, cough, cold, with breathing difficulty, along with severe dehydration,” he says.
In terms of treatment, the doctor says while there is no specific treatment available, “keeping adequate hydration” is important. “Only supportive care is available, like we need to keep [the patient] hydrated, and support with oxygen therapy. We need to give antacids and medicines that reduce vomiting.”
Dr Jha cautions that the virus is dangerous for humans. “It has a significantly high mortality rate.”
In terms of preventive measures, he advises you to follow everything that you would for other viral infections, including frequent washing of hands, avoiding going to an area which is infested by bats. “We also need to avoid eating those fruits [which are found in those trees] where bats are found. Besides bats, pigs are the common reservoir [for the virus].”