NCDC Team Diligently Working to Control Nipah Virus Situation in India

A central team led by the National Centre for Disease Control stresses that Nipah virus in India is not a major outbreak, but a local occurrence, and the situation is currently under control.

A newly emerging zoonosis capable of causing severe disease in animals and humans alike has been plaguing India. The disease in question? Nipah virus.

Although news of an outbreak has been shouted across headlines for the past couple of weeks, the most recent update released by the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that after reviewing the cases of all patients who have died, the central high-level team led by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has concluded that the disease is “not a major outbreak and is only a local occurrence.”

To date, the WHO has reported 14 confirmed cases, 20 suspected cases, and 12 deaths—9 from Kozhikode and 3 from Malappuram.

The Nipah virus is an RNA virus that can cause a mild to severe disease in both humans and domestic animals. It can be transmitted through human-to-animal and human-to-human contact. The natural host of the virus, according to the WHO, are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae Family, Pteropus genus.

Asymptomatic infection (subclinical), acute respiratory infection, and fatal encephalitis are included in the range of the virus’ clinical presentations. The virus is known to have originated in humans (via contraction from pigs) in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999.

Scientists estimate a fatality rate of 40% to 75% for the Nipah virus.

Rajeev Sadanandan, additional chief secretary for Kerala's Department of Health and Family Welfare, allegedly claimed in a recent statement that the situation is "under control,” as the team has been tasked with constantly assessing the situation and has worked on fine-tuning draft guidelines, case definitions, advisories for health care workers, and educational information for the general public.

According to the most recent WHO update, the public has been asked to practice safe hygiene and to avoid consuming any fruits or vegetables that appear to have been eaten by any birds or animals; they have also been instructed on what steps to take when going near infected individuals or at-risk areas. Thus far, the “general awareness among the general public has been encouraging,” they write.

Other efforts include meetings with district collectors and medical staff of hospitals to review admitted patients and strategize on actions to further prevent disease transmission.

“The efforts taken so far for containment of the disease have been fruitful as the disease has not spread to new areas,” according to the WHO. “The contact tracing strategy adopted has also been successful.” Furthermore, all reported and suspected cases of infection were in individuals who had direct or indirect contact with the first casualty, or his family, previous to becoming infected themselves.

Nipah virus is one of the pathogens on the WHO’s R&D Blueprint list of epidemic threats in need of urgent research and development activities. One of these actions is to create a roadmap for these priority diseases. The roadmap for Nipah virus prioritizes the development of robust medical countermeasures to detect, prevent, and control outbreaks of infection in all countries affected with the virus. These measures include diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

The timeline for the virus roadmap is on schedule and the final draft is expected in June.

Feature Picture Source: CDC / Cynthia Goldsmith. Picture Caption: These three transmission electron microscopic (TEM) images reveal some of the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the Nipah virus (NiV). The figure at the top depicts a negative stain electron microscopic (EM) image of a single long stranded nucleocapsid. On the bottom left, you see a thin section EM image of a mature virus particle, and the bottom right image depicts a thin section EM image of nucleocapsids show adjacent to the plasma membrane of an infected cell.