(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Outbreak of deadly Nipah virus

A man gathers date palm sap in the northwestern district of Rajshahi in Bangladesh, where repeated Nipah infection outbreaks, spread by fruit bats, have killed some 157 since 2001
Ahmad Orko Nur/IRIN

An outbreak of the Nipah virus in northern Bangladesh has killed 30 people since the start of 2011, prompting national health warnings against the fatal pathogen spread by fruit bats. Everyone who got infected, died.

“Only by stopping the consumption of the raw sap, can this disease be stopped. Despite our many attempts at raising awareness, people are ignoring the warnings and as a result, are getting infected,” warned Health Minister A.F.M. Ruhal Haque.

Palm tree sap, often served fresh, is a popular drink in rural areas.

Six people from the northern Joypurhat District have died thus far in 2012 and 24 during the same period  in 2011.

“In the last two years, the mortality rate has been 100 percent. Once the disease sets in, nothing much can be done,” Mahmudur Rahman, director of the non-governmental Dhaka-based Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told IRIN.

Named after the Malaysian village where the disease cross-over from pigs to humans was first discovered, Nipah virus (NiV) was diagnosed in people in 1998 in Malaysia and Singapore, then 2001 in Bangladesh.

Since then there have been 10 outbreaks in Bangladesh, killing 157 of 208 infected persons, according to IEDCR.

Flu-like symptoms include fever and muscle pain. Brain tissue inflammation (encephalitis) may follow, which can lead to disorientation, coma and death.

According to scientists from IEDCR and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, the primary reservoir for the NiV is fruit bats.

Infected bats’ droppings, urine and saliva contaminate fruit trees, mostly date palms in Bangladesh.

Humans become infected when they drink contaminated raw sap or fruits, or come into contact with infected animals.

Ninety percent of infected people from 1998-2008 were pig farmers or had come into contact with infected pigs, according to World Health Organization (WHO).

Medical studies have reported possible human-to-human transmission through sneezing, coughing and body fluids. 

Prevalent from December to May, NiV infections have appeared in 10 districts in the north. Scientists are unclear why the north has been hardest hit.

There is “strong evidence” that destruction of bats’ natural habitats is behind the re-emergence of NiV infections in humans, notes WHO.

There is no treatment or vaccine available yet for either people or animals, though a vaccine is under development.

ao/pt/cb

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