Schools and offices in the southern Indian state of Kerala have been closed following the deaths of two people caused by the Nipah virus. As authorities announced on Friday, four more people were confirmed infected with the pathogen.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is still no protection against the Nipah virus. No medicine or even a vaccine has been developed. Is the world threatened by a new pandemic?
Can the Nipah virus become a pandemic?
Virologist and epidemiologist Klaus Stöhr told the newspaper “Bild”: “Epidemics of Nipah in humans will occur from time to time. However, there is no risk of a pandemic, because chains of infection quickly die out if people are only very rarely infected by each other.”
There are also more than 300 relevant zoonotic pathogens worldwide, that is, pathogens that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Only a “handful” of them are stable and established in humans, continued the virologist.
700 people isolated
According to information, more than 700 people are under observation because they have been in contact with infected people. Among them are no less than 150 health workers. Kerala Health Minister Veena George said she wanted to actively search for cases, according to local television channel NDTV.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has asked people to avoid public gatherings in the affected Kozhikode district for the time being. Among other things, there was a major outbreak of Nipah in the district in 2018, during which 21 people died. Outbreaks of Nipah have also occurred in Singapore and Malaysia.
Nipah virus – answers to the most important questions
How is the Nipah virus transmitted?
The Nipah virus is initially present in fruit bats (Pteropodidae). How the virus is transmitted to pigs, cattle or even humans has not yet been definitively elucidated. However, there is evidence that people and animals can become infected through contact with flying fox saliva and urine.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, in previous outbreaks, people were infected through contact with infected animals (e.g. pigs) and through ingestion of contaminated food (e.g. when fruit bats nibbled on it). Viruses can also be transmitted from person to person, according to the RKI. The spread of the virus is also known in the medical context, for example in clinics.
Why is the Nipah virus so dangerous?
The virus can cause severe inflammation of the brain. However, the first symptoms are similar to those of the flu with fever, nausea and headache. Some patients experience breathing problems. Disorientation, dizziness and confusion occur later.
Within one to two days, patients can slip into a coma and die. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mortality rate from Nipah disease is 40 to 75 percent.
Is there a risk of a new pandemic caused by the Nipah virus?
According to the WHO, this could cause a global pandemic. However, this is initially a localized epidemic in a rural area. If further spread or outbreak in the region can be avoided, Nipah virus is unlikely to spread to other countries and continents and thus become a pandemic.
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