Nipah Virus – What Australians need to know

Nipah Virus is making headlines in the Indians’ home country, and while there is no need to panic, it is important to be wary of the infection.

Nipah Virus is making headlines in the Indians’ home country, and while there is no need to panic, it is important to be wary of the infection. Find out more about the causes, symptoms and preventive measures to thwart the threat.

Nipah virus is the latest threat that is looming large on the Asian sub-continent. While its first outbreak was discovered in pigs and humans in Malaysia and Singapore about two decades ago in 1998, the infective virus has surfaced again, this time in the Indian peninsular region. According to the latest reports, nearly 12 people have reportedly died of the viral infection in India.

The World Health Organization defines the Nipah virus as a newly emerging zoonosis, a disease that can be transmitted to humans from animals. Though animals like horses, dogs and cats are at high risk, pigs and fruit bats are known to be the natural carriers of the virus. Given its highly contagious nature, the infection transmits to humans simply through animal touch and lack of hygiene.

In humans, the infection is known to spur a range of problems. From asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory infection and fatal encephalitis, the infection is typically presented by symptoms like fever, headaches, muscle pain, vomiting, sore throat, dizziness, drowsiness, etc. And with an unexpectedly high mortality rate of 70%, the outbreak is sure to trigger some panic.

Nipah Virus – How is Australia affected

The Australian continent is distantly located from the current epicenter of the outbreak. However, the to-and-fro travel to south Indian states can increase the risk of spread of the infection in Australia. And with no effective treatments and vaccinations available currently to combat the Nipah virus infection, it’s prudent to follow a preventive path.

Preventive measures to safeguard self and family

Listed below are a few preventive measures that can help safeguard the Indian community settled in Australia as well as the mainstream Australians against the fatal virus:

  • The best and the safest way is to avoid contact with the virus. If you happen to hail from the any of the south-Indian state, especially Kerala, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, and have a visit on the cards, try to postpone your trip till the situation improves.
  • If you happen to know people who have recently returned from India, Malaysia, Singapore or Bangladesh, be watchful about their health.
  • Nipah virus does not spread through air, but through contact and bodily fluids. Avoid unprotected physical contact with any such person. Maintain proper hygiene, with regular hand washing being a must.
  • As the virus easily transmits from bats to humans, it’s advisable to reduce any kind of contact with these birds. Bats drink sap of date palm trees, so avoid date palm juice.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables properly before consumption. Do not eat raw foods.
  • To avoid the virus from following the animal-to-human spread path, wear gloves and other preventive clothing when in touch with animals.

According to medical research, the magnitude and intensity of the spread is higher from December through May. The onset of monsoons in South India will thwart the spread of the virus naturally. Till such time, it is important to stay on the defensive.

Australia offers antibody to fight the Nipah virus outbreak in India

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) had earlier reached out to the Queensland government requesting the monoclonal antibody to test whether it can neutralise the Nipah virus in humans. 

The brain-damaging virus outbreak has already killed 12 people in the south Indian state of Kerala.  There are reports of viral infection from Himachal Pradesh in the north too.

“We are in discussions with health authorities in India to provide a monoclonal antibody manufactured in Queensland and undergoing clinical trial,” a Queensland Health spokesman said. 

Queensland Health has clarified that this was the same antibody used to provide post-exposure prophylaxis (treatment to prevent disease) to individuals exposed to Hendra virus in Australia under a “compassionate use protocol”. 

Hendra virus was discovered in racing horses in the Brisbane suburb of Hendra in 1994. Four people died in the state after contracting this disease. 

Queensland Health has expressed deep concern over the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala and hoped “the antibody can be used to assist in controlling the serious illness.”