Nipah Virus Outbreak in Southern India


The zoonotic virus has claimed 2 lives as Indian officials work to identify potential contacts and get the virus under control.

Two people have died from the Nipah virus in the southern state of Kerala, India, according to a report on CNN. There have been 5 reported cases and 700 people identified as close contacts. Within this group, 77 of them have been characterized as high risk.

India has seen Nipah outbreaks in recent years with notable ones in 2018 that killed 17 people and in 2021 where it killed a young boy. This is now Kerala’s fourth outbreak since 2018.

The Nipah Virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus and fruit bats are the natural animal reservoir for NiV. Outbreaks occur almost annually in Asia, affecting India and Bangladesh particularly, according to the CDC. The federal agency also states NiV infection can be prevented by “avoiding exposure to sick pigs and bats in areas where the virus is present, and not drinking raw date palm sap which can be contaminated by an infected bat.”

Fruit bats, also known as flying foxes, can spread the infection to people as well as other animals such as pigs.

“The symptoms of NiV infection range from mild to severe, with death occurring in 40%–70% of those infected in documented outbreaks between 1998 and 2018,” the CDC reports on its website. There are no current therapies for NiV, and treatment is supportive care and treatment of symptoms.

Our researchers here at the Pandemic Sciences Institute (PSI) are closely monitoring the current outbreak of deadly Nipah virus in Kerala," said Miles Carroll, professor of Emerging Viruses at the Pandemic Sciences Institute, University of Oxford. "To date, there have been five confirmed cases and two deaths reported, with many of those affected being family members of the first patient. The Institute has collaborations with scientists involved in the response, including virologists at the National Institute of Virology in Pune.

“Scientists here in Oxford are working with local partners in endemic countries to find out more about Nipah so we can ensure the world is better protected from outbreaks of this kind. This includes a partnership with icddr,b in Bangladesh for collaborative research, including vaccine development. Our researchers are currently in the advanced stages of preparing for an Oxford clinical trial of a Nipah vaccine using the ChAdOx1 vector, and are also working with partners to develop antivirals and monoclonals to treat those infected.”

Zoonotic viruses such as NiV could lead to a spillover event from animals to humans, which can then lead to larger outbreaks in humans. An initiative, STOP Spillover, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development, is trying to reduce future outbreaks from known zoonotic viruses by having partners on the ground in various parts of the world to monitor, analyze, and characterize the risk of priority zoonotic viruses and potential spillover events.

STOP Spillover is in 5 countries including Uganda, Liberia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam with the long-term goal to be in 10 countries across Asia and Africa.

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