Bats from Mahabaleshwar cave found with Nipah Virus antibodies: Will it be the next pandemic?
New Delhi, June 23: A recent survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)- National Institute of Virology found that the presence of antibodies against Nipah Virus (NiV) in some bat species from a cave in Mahabaleshwar, a popular hill station in Maharashtra.
The survey was aimed at studying the prevalence of the Nipah virus (NiV) - one of the top-10 global priority list pathogens identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) - in bats of India.
In March 2020, two species of bats, Rousettus leschenaultii and Pipistrellus pipistrellus were trapped by researchers using mist nets in a cave in Mahabaleshwar.
The new study titled 'Detection of possible Nipah virus infection in Rousettus leschenaultii and Pipistrellus Pipistrellus bats in Maharashtra, India' and published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health has found NiV and its antibodies in different bat species.
Necropsy was performed at the containment facility of ICMR and NIV. RNA was extracted from a throat swab, rectal swab, and organ samples (kidney, liver, and spleen), researchers said.
Nipah virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it can spread between animals and people.
That outbreak in 2018 killed 17 people of the 19 infected, a death rate of 89%. Kerala responded rapidly, and a health officer trained in Ebola outbreak protocols was brought in to ensure that the entire state isolated patients suspected of having Nipah.
In 2019, when Kerala saw another case in a young student, it deployed an extensive contact tracing system that was able to quickly test 329 people who had come into contact with the patient, preventing further spread. There were no deaths.
Will it be the next pandemic?
Speaking to leading daily, Dr. Pragya Yadav, NIV scientist and one of the authors, told that none of the bat species in Maharashtra had previously shown exposure to Nipah.
However, NiV detection in P pipistrellus bats, an insectivorous species, and their role in virus spill-over to humans appear remote, the study said.Their positivity might be explained because they share the same habitat with R leschenaultii bats inside the cave.
They concluded that more studies will be required to understand thoroughly.
How does is it spread?
The Nipah virus lives among the Pteropodidae family of fruit bats. It can spread to humans, often through eating or drinking products contaminated by fruit bat droppings.
For instance, the bats occupy date trees and consumption of date products can lead to infection. It also easily infects a wide variety of animals - an outbreak in farmers in Malaysia in 1998 originated in pigs, who had previously been infected by bats. The disease can also spread from human to human, and the theory is that the virus can travel in respiratory secretions and saliva, such as that expelled by coughing.
Most infections seem to have come from infected patients who had breathing problems, which supports this theory.
On average 5-14 days, but in some extreme cases up to 45 days, which can mean a lot of time for an infected person to unknowingly infect others.
The virus can cause acute respiratory infection and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) that can lead to a coma or death. Symptoms include fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat.
This can be followed by dizziness, drowsiness and altered consciousness. One in five people who survive can develop seizure disorders and experience personality changes.
How can Nipah virus be prevented?
Nipah virus 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. During an outbreak, standard infection control practices can help prevent person-to-person spread in hospital settings.
Practice handwashing regularly with soap and water
- Avoid contact with sick bats or pigs
- Avoid areas where bats are known to roost
- Avoid consumption of raw date palm sap
- Avoid consumption of fruits that may be contaminated by bats
- Avoid contact with the blood or body fluids of any person known to be infected with NiV