Health officials in India are trying to stop the spread of yet another serious infectious disease. Over the weekend, a 12-year-old boy died from an infection caused by the Nipah virus, a highly lethal germ spread from bats or contaminated food that can also spread between people.  At least two health workers have since tested positive for the Nipah virus, and authorities are working to trace the boy’s contacts in a bid to prevent the spread of a disease that is deadlier than covid-19.

Infected people initially develop symptoms including fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat. Dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness, and neurological signs that indicate acute encephalitis can follow this. Some people can also experience atypical pneumonia and severe respiratory problems, including acute respiratory distress. Encephalitis and seizures occur in severe cases, progressing to coma within 24 to 48 hours. 

Nipah virus was first recognized in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in, Malaysia. It was also recognized in Bangladesh in 2001, and the disease has also been identified periodically in eastern India. Human-to-human transmission of Nipah virus has also been reported among family and caregivers of infected patients.

There are currently no drugs or vaccines specific for Nipah virus infection although WHO has identified Nipah as a priority disease for the WHO Research and Development Blueprint.  Intensive supportive care is recommended to treat severe respiratory and neurologic complications.

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