Nipah Virus Outbreak – Symptoms Prevention And Treatment Of This Deadly Viral Disease

Nipah Virus Outbreak – Symptoms Prevention And Treatment Of This Deadly Viral Disease

Kerala state of India has been on high alert due to outbreak of a deadly virus known as Nipah. According to National Institute of Virology, Pune, nipah virus (NiV) is the only reason behind mysterious death of over 10 people in Kerala including a nurse. Most of us haven’t heard about this virus and a lot has to be understood. So here we bring everything on this deadly viral infection.

Nipah Virus

According to World Health Organization, Nipah Virus is a newly emerging viral disease that causes severe illness in both humans and animals. It can cause several complications and in severe cases, death can occur. The virus was named after a village Sungai Nipah in the Malaysian Peninsula where it infected pig farmers.

Nipah virus – First outbreak

The virus was first identified in Singapore and Malaysia in the year 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis. At that point of time, the primary mode of transmission was pigs. The virus infected about 265 people out of which 106 people were admitted to intensive care unit following critical condition.

About 300 people were infected in this outbreak and over 100 cases of deaths were reported. The Malaysian government euthanized or culled more than 1 million pigs in order to stop the outbreak. After that, no subsequent cases were reported neither in Singapore nor in Malaysia. In the same year, the virus was identified in Siliguri city of West Bengal, India.

Nipah Virus – How it is spread?

Fruit bats or megabats are its natural host through which the virus can be transmitted to humans and animals. The strain identified was initially transmitted from bats to pigs followed by spread within the population. However, no infection from humans to humans was reported in this outbreak.

On the contrary, cases of individual to individual transmission were reported in India and Bangladesh. This occurred to direct exposure to infected bats. One such example is when a person consumes raw date palm contaminated with excretion (saliva, urine, feces) of infected bats.

Signs and symptoms of nipah virus

According to experts, nipah virus does not spread through airborne transmission. It only affects those who directly come in contact with the contaminated bodies. The major signs and symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Mental confusion
  • Respiratory problems
  • Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain

The symptoms can last upto 7-10 days. However, during this phase, respiratory illness should be closely monitored.

Incubation period of nipah virus

According to Vidya Menon, Clinical Professor at the Department of Medicine, Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, Kochi, the progression of the virus is very serious. While for some people, incubation period is long, in 90 percent of the cases, the signs and symptoms start appearing within 2 weeks of exposure.

According to Vikas Maurya, Head of Department-Pulmonolgy, Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, people who are infected must be isolated or quarantined for at least 10 to 15 days until the harmfulness of the virus settles and our immune system starts fighting back.

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Diagnosis of nipah viral infection

The diagnosis of the disease can be made by a combination of various tests. The doctor after looking at symptoms would take:

  • Throat and nasal swab
  • Urine test
  • Blood test
  • Antibody test such as ELISA (IgG and IgM) can be performed at a later stage

Prevention and Cure of nipah viral infection

Currently, there is no cure for this infection. There is neither any specific vaccine available for the treatment of this infection. As of now, the treatment is limited to supportive care. Since nipah virus encephalitis can be spread from individual to individual, standard practices of controlling infection is generally applied.


The test of drug ribavirin has shown to be effective against the virus in artificial environment (in vitro). But there is no conclusive human investigation conducted till date and the clinical use of this drug is unreliable. Besides, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has asked the Australian government to provide antibody developed there, to check if it can neutralize the virus in humans.
According to Dr. Bhargava, director general, ICMR, Australia is willing to share the antibody as it will help them generate data on its effectiveness.


Since the outbreak, scientists are racing ahead to create a vaccine of nipah virus. The global coalition of governments and non-profits CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has come up with over US$ 25 million aid to US pharma companies such as Profectus BioSciences and Emergent BioSolutions to accelerate work on the development of vaccine.

The best way to stay away from this disease is to avoid exposure to bats and sick pigs in the area of outbreak. Also, avoid drinking palm sap of raw date. Moreover, health professionals should practice precautionary measures such as wearing gloves and masks.

If you feel uneasiness around the endemic region, contact your doctor immediately and get tested.


1. Nipah Virus (NiV)(2014, March 20). CDC read more
2. Field H, et al.(2001).The natural history of Hendra and Nipah viruses read more
3. Nipah Virus (NiV) Infection(n.d.).WHO read more