Following recent incidents of the Nipah virus in South India, Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) has issued an advisory directed by the Federal Minister for Health. While there have been no reported instances of the virus within Pakistan, the Ministry of Health has deemed it necessary to keep the populace informed.
Understanding the Nipah Threat
The Ministry’s spokesperson highlighted that the virus primarily spreads to humans through bats and pigs. Dr Nadeem Jan, representing the Ministry, pointed out previous instances of the Nipah virus in countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, and India. Although the current advisory is low-risk, the Ministry is taking diligent steps to ensure public safety. Border health services and the NIH have been briefed and directed accordingly.
Dr. Jan emphasized that the Nipah virus can affect both humans and animals. The border health services system is being fortified to counter the potential threat. Moreover, the ministry is keen on implementing recommendations from the International Health Regulations to safeguard the public from potential epidemics.
Delving Deeper into the Nipah Virus
The Nipah virus first surfaced in 1998 during an outbreak that affected pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore. It can directly infect humans upon contact with infected bats and pigs. There have also been instances of human-to-human transmission. The underlying fear among scientists is the mutation of the Nipah virus into a more transmissible strain that could originate from bats.
Currently, no vaccines have been developed to prevent or treat the infection. Patients usually undergo supportive care, considering the virus has a daunting mortality rate of about 70%. Initial symptoms include fever, respiratory issues, headaches, and vomiting, as per the World Health Organization (WHO). In acute cases, patients may suffer from encephalitis, seizures, and even slip into a coma.
The WHO has recognized the virus’s epidemic potential, adding it to its research and development list of pathogens.
Historical Outbreaks of the Nipah Virus
Since its discovery in 1998, which led to over 100 deaths and affected nearly 300 individuals, the Nipah virus has travelled thousands of miles with a fatality rate ranging between 72% to 86%. WHO data reveals that from 1998 to 2015, more than 600 cases of Nipah virus infections were reported. Specifically, in 2001, outbreaks in India and Bangladesh had a fatality rate of approximately 68%. Further 2018, Kerala witnessed an outbreak claiming 21 lives, with subsequent outbreaks in 2019 and 2021.