What is the Nipah virus and what are the symptoms?

WITH coronavirus still circulating many people have pushed other viruses to the back of their minds.

But the Nipah virus is a serious infection that can cause brain swelling and death – so it's important that you know the signs to looks out for.

The world has battled the Covid pandemic over the last two years and vaccines have proved effective at battling the virus.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), an organisation that has helped fund Covid jabs that are being delivered to people across the world, is also funding jabs against other diseases that have the potential to turn into a pandemic, such as the Nipah virus.

The illness has a fatality rate as high as 70 per cent and there are currently no vaccines or treatments for the virus.

This means it could run rampant across society if just one person catches the bug and outbreaks regularly occur in places such as India and Bangladesh.

Here's everything you need to know about the Nipah virus.

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What is the Nipah virus?

Nipah virus is a serious infection that can cause brain swelling and death.

It was first discovered in 1999, in Malaysia, Singapore, when 100 deaths occurred out of 300 cases. 

The virus is named after a place in Port Dickson, Malaysia, where the outbreak was traced back to a pig farm.

What are the symptoms?

Nipah virus tends to start causing symptoms between four days and two weeks after exposure, but it can be as long as 45 days.

Initially it may cause a fever and headache, and sometimes respiratory symptoms like a cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing.

Patients may go on to have brain swelling, medically called encephalitis. 

This can cause drowsiness, disorientation and mental confusion. It can rapidly progress to a coma within 48 hours, the CDC says.

Have there been outbreaks before?

Nipah virus has caused a few known outbreaks in Asia, including Malaysia, India and Bangladesh.

There is potential that places like Cambodia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Thailand are at risk because there are known areas where bats live.

In September health officials scrambled to contain the Nipah virus in India, after it killed a 12-year-old boy.

The brain-swelling virus has caused only a handful of outbreaks in the past two decades.

But it has the potential to cause a pandemic, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention warns.

How deadly is the Nipah virus and how is it spread?

Between 40 and 75 per cent of people with Nipah virus die.

There is no treatment for the disease. 

Those who survive tend to make a full recovery. But many are left with lifelong brain problems or relapse. 

How is it spread?

Outbreaks tend to occur when humans catch Zipah from an animal, making it what's called a zoonotic disease. 

Cases have been blamed on contact with sick pigs (Malaysia) or by eating fruit that is contaminated with saliva or urine from infected bats (India). 

In one outbreak in 2004 the origin was probably villagers drinking date palm sap contaminated by bats.

But human-to-human transmission of Nipah virus has also been reported among family and care givers of infected patients, so it can also spread between humans.

This means it does have the potential to cause a pandemic.

Nipah is "top of the list" of ten priority diseases that the World Health Organisation has identified as potential sources of future epidemics.

And scientists have previously told The Sun Nipah could “absolutely be the cause of a new pandemic”.

Up to three-quarters of people who are infected die, making Nipah virus around 75 times deadlier than estimated Covid mortality.  

The state dealt with Nipah in 2018, when more than a dozen people died from the virus. 

Meanwhile, Kerala is seeing around 20,000 Covid cases per day out of India's daily total of 31,000. 

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