Scientists from the International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh, or icddr,b have discovered that newborns receive humoral immunity against the Nipah virus from their mothers.
The research was conducted by the icddr,b scientists and the organisation’s partners and published in the journal of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease, the icddr,b said in a statement on Tuesday.
The zoonotic virus can be transmitted from animals to humans, through foods contaminated by animals and from humans to humans, according to the icddr,b. Fruit bats are the natural host of the virus, which is currently one of the deadly emerging pathogens.
Dr Syed Moinuddin Satter, who led the study, said: "To the best of our knowledge, this finding is the first to report the vertical transfer of NiV-specific immune properties."
The icddr,b scientist said that further exploration is needed for the effectiveness of the immunity in neutralising the virus and its potential to protect newborns. “This (the research) will also be a reference for vaccine recommendations for pregnant and young women against the Nipa virus," Dr Moinuddin added.
According to the World Health Organisation, the mortality rate for the virus is estimated at 40% to 75% across the world. The icddr,b said it is about 71% in Bangladesh. The survivors of the virus infection suffer from severe neurological complications, and there is a high chance that these symptoms worsen gradually when a survivor becomes pregnant.
HOW THE STUDY WAS CONDUCTED
In January 2020, a girl aged below five years and her mother from Faridpur were infected with the virus, according to the icddr,b.
Both had a history of raw date palm juice consumption and were diagnosed as confirmed Nipah virus cases. The daughter died of the virus at one point, while the mother survived with significant residual neurological impairment.
The woman became pregnant in November 2021 and was under thorough antenatal follow-up by the National Nipah surveillance authority, icddr,b said. In August 2022, she gave birth to a healthy male baby.
As part of the follow-up, samples were collected and tested for virus infection at the reference laboratory to exclude the possibility of transmission to the newborn boy from the mother.
The researchers found humoral immunity against the virus transferred from the mother to the child’s samples, as it tested negative for the virus in rapid and the PCR test and a high titer of anti-Nipah IgG, or a class of immunoglobulins, was found.
HOW TO STAY SAFE
Professor Dr Tahmina Shirin, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, alerted people to the dangers of consuming raw date palm juice. "Recently, we are observing a profound interest among people to consume raw date palm sap and get involved in promoting this culture on social media. People indulge in it without knowing the havoc it can create. Even if someone says they have taken precautions while collecting raw date palm sap, we urge everyone not to drink it because it is still unsafe."
Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, executive director at the icddr,b, appreciated the collaborative efforts. "In partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, the icddr,b has been running the world's longest Nipah virus surveillance to detect Nipah virus outbreaks, understand the disease transmission, and find new knowledge and insights. These can help develop therapeutics and vaccines against this deadly infection. The effort has been rewarding, and I hope we will soon have effective preventive measures and treatments, and be able to save lives."