Nipah virus strikes back

Nurul Islam Hasib Senior
Published : 23 Jan 2013, 06:11 AM
Updated : 25 Jan 2013, 11:04 AM

The virus that killed nearly 80 percent of its total infections in Bangladesh has struck back killing an 8-year-old boy in Dhaka and leaving his father critically ill, the government’s disease monitoring agency, IEDCR confirms.

According to its Director, the family drank raw date sap brought from Bhaluka on Jan 11 and fell ill six days later. “The boy succumbed on Tuesday at a Dhaka clinic and his father is in an intensive care unit,” Prof Mahmudur Rahman told

He said they were confirmed about the presence of the nipah virus in their laboratory at around 5.45pm on Wednesday.

The bat-borne nipah virus that infects a person only after drinking raw date sap and later can pass on to other persons through contact is a cause of public health concern in Bangladesh as it breaks out every year during Jan-Apr.

Since 2001, when it first broke out as an unknown disease, the virus has killed 136 of its 176 victims in 21 districts across Bangladesh.

“It is hundred percent preventable if we can prevent people from drinking raw date sap,” the Director said, “But once infected, we don’t have a cure.”

“It usually takes seven to eight days on an average between exposure and signs of symptoms — fever, altered mental status and seizure,” Prof Rahman said. He said they would watch the family where eight members took the drink, up to 21 days.

They were also following the families who received the date sap from the same source. “We have discovered that one person from Bhaluka supplied 100 bottles of sap to families in Dhaka,” he said.
He could not rule out further outbreaks. “We are watchful.”
Nipah virus was first detected in Malaysia in 1998 but at present Bangladesh, a hotspot for infectious diseases, is the only country in the world that reports the disease.
Though public health analysts believe that border districts of India have the virus, reports are not available from the Indian government to confirm it.
Anthropological study says drinking raw date or palm sap in the morning is an old practice in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas, where there is a general lack of maintaining hygiene.
An ICDDR,B study using infrared cameras found that fruit bats perch on the jars, put up on trees to collect the sap, and try to drink the juice. They also urinate into the pot.
The Pteropus bats’ saliva and urine carry the virus. But it gets destroyed if the sap is boiled.
“The virus is killed in 70 degrees Celsius temperature,” Prof Rahman said.
Bangladesh first confirmed the virus in 2004 after testing samples from the US following deaths of number of people as an ‘unknown’ ailment since 2001.
Meherpur, Naogaon, Rajbarhi, Tangail, Faridpur, Manikganj, Rangpur, Kushtia, and Thakurgaon districts of central and northwestern region are highly vulnerable to nipah, according to IEDCR. When it breaks out in a place, panic runs so high that people even desert their homes en masse.
The presence of the virus at Bhaluka in Mymensingh is new.
It is not clear why the virus is widespread in some districts, and why it strikes new places, but date tree is very common in those areas.
“We did not find it in Jessore despite many date trees being there. It was because bats in that region do not carry the virus,” Prof Rahman said.
Tracking the history of nipah in Bangladesh, found that it is highly communicable and can be passed on with minimal human contact.

Many victims were infected and they died after not taking precautions in taking care of patients.

“But you can prevent the infection by washing hands with soaps, and not sharing the same food,” he said suggesting caregivers should wear masks.

“But above all, the campaign should be not to drink raw date sap.”