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Friday, June 14, 2019

Is Nipah Virus our New Nemesis?

I admit that I’m a bit of an outbreak addict. I’m fascinated, particularly when we’re dealing with an emerging pathogen that we still have much to learn about. In March 2015, I wrote a book review for “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” which was right up my alley focus on emerging zoonotic disease. I’ll be truthful, I’m not exactly sure if there are more diseases popping up or if we are better at finding them and with society being what it is and sharing via social media we hear about them with increasing frequency.

Last week, India announced that a 23 year old college student has been confirmed to have Nipah Virus (NiV). Now there are at least 300 people under observation, but no additional cases have been identified. Nipah virus infection is an emerging zoonotic disease that has the potential to cause severe disease in both animals and humans with outbreaks having occurred in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, and eastern India. Outbreaks have been associated with close contact with pigs (intermediate host), eating fruit contaminated with saliva or poop from infected fruit bats (the natural host) and direct person-to-person contact. 

Symptoms of NiV are varied including fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat. As the infection progresses, dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness, and neurological signs that indicate acute encephalitis may occur and some people can also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress. The incubation period is believed to range from 4 to 14 days and based on data from reported outbreaks the mortality rates are 40% to 70%.

With many countries importing fruits, there is a risk of international transmission via fruits or fruit products such as raw date palm juice that has been contaminated with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats. Luckily transmission can be prevented by washing the fruit thoroughly or peeling them before eating. If you’ve purchased fruit that looks to have bites taken out of it, the WHO recommends that it is discarded and not consumed.

Does this mean we panic? No. But it does remind us that in the world of viruses, nothing stays still and that we must continue to be vigilant and remind ourselves that with globalization, things are closer than we think and can be whisked around the world in under 15 hours (the time it takes to fly direct from Toronto to Shanghai). We’ll never know when an infected person, or contaminated food or object may be on its way to spread disease to unsuspecting populations!   

Bugging Off!


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