India Grapples With a Deadly New Nipah Virus

Dr. Munr Kazmir
3 min readSep 18

Here we go again?

India on Alert to Contain Outbreak of Deadly Nipah Virus,” reported Vibhuti Agarwal for the Wall Street Journal this week. “Authorities in southern India scaled up efforts to contain an outbreak of Nipah virus after two people died of the disease, which originates in animals and can in severe cases cause respiratory illness and fatal brain swelling.”

Nipah virus (NiV) is a highly contagious and often fatal pathogen capable of infecting both humans and animals. Classified as a zoonotic virus, it bridges the species barrier, posing a significant risk to human health. Its ominous debut in 1999 during a harrowing outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore sent shockwaves through the medical community.

“Nipah virus was first recorded among pig farmers in Malaysia in 1999, according to the World Health Organization,” reported Agarwal for the WSJ. “Key outbreaks have mainly occurred since then in South Asia or Southeast Asia. India has seen cases of the virus in West Bengal state, as well as Kerala.”

According to world health authorities, the Nipah virus primarily finds its way into humans via fruit bats, known as flying foxes, which serve as natural reservoirs for this pathogen. Yet, it can also spread through close contact with infected pigs or the consumption of tainted food products, such as raw date palm sap contaminated with bat saliva or urine.

Like the novel coronavirus, the Nipah virus unleashes a spectrum of symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, and sore throat. In its gravest form, it triggers encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, resulting in confusion, drowsiness, and even coma. Alarming mortality rates, ranging from 40% to a staggering 75%, hinge on the location of the outbreak, available healthcare infrastructure, and a myriad of other factors.

Like Covid-19, no specific antiviral treatment currently exists for Nipah virus infections.

Thus far, Nipah virus hotspots have predominantly surfaced in South and Southeast Asia, casting shadows over countries like Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and Singapore. These outbreaks often escalate into public health crises, demanding rapid responses. Strategies involve isolating and treating the infected, monitoring…