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Nipah Virus: A Zoonotic Threat to Public Health

Nipah Virus: A Zoonotic Threat to Public Health

The Nipah virus (NiV) outbreak in Kerala in 2018 sent shockwaves through the nation and served as a stark reminder of the constant threat posed by zoonotic diseases. In this article, we delve into the intricacies of the NiV, its origins, impact, and the imperative need for a holistic approach to healthcare.

The Terrifying NiV Outbreak

In the annals of history, the 2018 NiV outbreak in Kerala will be remembered as a watershed moment. For a generation accustomed to sensational narratives on screens, this real-life horror story left an indelible mark. Fast forward to the latest outbreak in Kozhikode, where six individuals have tested positive, and two have tragically lost their lives. NiV, now in its fourth outbreak in Kerala, has become synonymous with the fear and uncertainty surrounding emerging diseases in our modern world.

Anthropogenic Causes: The Driving Force

NiV’s emergence, as a zoonotic disease making the leap from animals to humans, highlights a concerning reality – anthropogenic factors are the driving forces behind many new pandemics. As these diseases emerge with alarming regularity, disrupting lives and societies, it is incumbent upon our leaders and healthcare professionals to recognize the shifting dynamics of disease and adopt a holistic approach to healthcare.

The Origin of ‘Nipah’

The name ‘Nipah’ derives from the Malaysian village where the first outbreak was reported in 1998. This initial outbreak affected over 250 individuals, primarily among farm and slaughterhouse workers. Initially presenting as encephalitis-like symptoms, doctors soon discovered that the disease had a broader spectrum, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, respiratory failure, and multi-organ dysfunction syndrome. The culprit was identified as a paramyxovirus, with pigs and fruit bats acting as vectors. Since then, India has witnessed several NiV outbreaks, primarily in Kerala, but also in Siliguri in 2001 and a smaller outbreak in Nadia, West Bengal, in 2007.

No Licensed Treatment

One of the most concerning aspects of NiV is the absence of licensed treatments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that there are currently no approved treatments for NiV infection. Supportive care, including rest, hydration, and symptom management, remains the mainstay of treatment. Some reports suggest that the antiviral drug Favipiravir has shown some effectiveness against NiV, while the m102.4 monoclonal antibody is undergoing development and evaluation.

Lessons from Kerala’s Response

The 2018 NiV outbreak in Kozhikode, where a significant number of infected individuals tragically lost their lives, drew attention not only from the healthcare system but also the general public. Kerala’s response to the outbreak provided valuable lessons in managing public health emergencies. Key measures included patient isolation, contact tracing, quarantine, triage, and strict infection control protocols.

The Concerns: Human-to-Human Transmission and More

Human-to-human transmission has been a significant concern in NiV outbreaks. Patient Zero, Mohammed Salih, contracted the virus through such transmission. Healthcare workers have also been affected, emphasizing the potential for nosocomial transmission. The high mortality rates and risks to healthcare workers underscore the gravity of the situation.

A Comprehensive Approach Needed

It is evident that a piecemeal approach to handling NiV outbreaks is insufficient. Larger factors are at play, necessitating a more comprehensive approach to healthcare. Anthropogenic activities such as rapid agricultural expansion, habitat destruction, and climate change contribute to the emergence of diseases like NiV. The ‘One Health’ approach, advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO), is gaining prominence. It seeks to balance and optimize the health of people, animals, and the environment, preventing, predicting, detecting, and responding to health threats.

The One Health Approach

The One Health approach calls for the collaboration of multiple sectors, disciplines, and communities to address the root causes of health threats and create sustainable solutions. It unites public health, veterinary, and environmental sectors, making it particularly relevant for controlling zoonotic diseases like NiV.

In conclusion, the Nipah virus remains a potent threat, underscoring the need for a holistic healthcare approach. Anthropogenic causes must be acknowledged and addressed, and the One Health approach offers a path forward in our battle against emerging diseases.

Source: The Hindu

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