On Sunday, a 12-year-old boy in the Indian state of Kerala passed away after being infected with the deadly nipah virus. Kerala is now struggling with two ongoing outbreaks at the same time, COVID and nipah infections, which have already spread to 11 people so far.
What is the nipah virus?
Like COVID, this is a zoonotic virus that is also found in bats, namely the fruit bat. The virus is transmitted from bats to other animals and humans through direct contact or contaminated food like fruit or palm sap. Infected humans can further spread the infection if they come in close contact to an uninfected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the infection can range from mild to severe illness and it can lead to other conditions like encephalitis, which is the swelling of the brain, and acute respiratory illness.
In the case of the young boy, Indian Express reported that he had developed both heart and brain inflammation.
Until now, all previous outbreaks of the virus have been predominantly recorded in Asian countries like India and Bangladesh. The very first cases were reported in Malaysia and Singapore in the 1990s.
In the Indian subcontinent, only two states so far have experienced small bursts of infection—West Bengal and Kerala. The first ever happened in the city of Siliguri in 2001 where 66 cases were recorded. In 2018, another outbreak took 17 lives.
According to the CDC, mild symptoms of nipah infection include fever, headache, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and vomiting. However more severe cases could lead to coma, seizures and as mentioned before, encephalitis. CDC explains:
Symptoms typically appear in 4-14 days following exposure to the virus.
The illness initially presents as 3-14 days of fever and headache, and often includes signs of respiratory illness, such as cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing.
A phase of brain swelling (encephalitis) may follow, where symptoms can include drowsiness, disorientation, and mental confusion, which can rapidly progress to coma within 24-48 hours.