Ottawa: A rare brain-damaging Nipah virus outbreak in southern India, the first reported outbreak in the country, had caused alarm to the health officials working to treat those infected with the virus, media reports said.
“It’s in the southern part of India, in Kerala, where it has never been seen before,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital who treats tropical diseases.
Kerala state, the epicentre of the outbreak, was reportedly blamed for the deaths of 10 including a nurse.
The Kerala outbreak “is definitely a concern,” Hana Weingartl, a research scientist and head of the special pathogens unit at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease (CFIANCFAD) in Winnipeg, said. “As a scientist, I would like to know how bad it is, what it is, what is the transmission route.”
Beaches in the tourist areas of Kerala are not as busy as normal, and travel agents there report cancellations.
The virus, discovered in Malaysia in 1999, responsible for nearly 300 human cases and 100 deaths, is named after the Malaysian village where it was first identified.
Bats are the natural reservoir of the disease and people who eat fruit that’s been in contact with bat secretions can pick up the infection, Bogoch said.
Initial signs include fever, chills, muscle aches and pain but ultimately the virus causes encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.
Some people suffer from seizures and headaches but severe inflammation can reportedly cause a coma.
Health-care providers or family members should avoid close contact with an infected person.
The death rate ranges from 40 percent to 75 percent, said Bogoch.
Many people who survive are left with continuing problems. “Those can include cognitive deficits, some people are left with a seizure disorder afterwards and there’s been reports of hearing and vision changes,” Bogoch said.
Prevention is important to managing the illness as no specific treatment or commercial vaccine for humans or animals.
“In a way it’s work which is a little bit invisible because we don’t have Nipah virus in Canada, so people are not aware about the danger,” Weingartl said in an interview.
Weingartl added, “But internationally, it is important to be able to work with the virus and be prepared because the virus is changing, and similarly to influenza it is quite possible it can … obtain the ability to readily transmit from humans to humans.”
Three candidate vaccines in animals had been tested in the lab, one intended for humans use eventually and the others for veterinary use.
“The vaccine is not an attractive proposition for companies,” Weingartl said.
Of the three, the first was excellent, she said, but the company had decided not to follow up.
The second reportedly needed more work, and England and Australia are busy working on it.
The third alternative is being tested by Weingartl and her team.