Nipah virus claims 2 more lives

Health officials are on a wake-up call as the fatal bat-borne nipah virus continues to claim more lives in Bangladesh, showing an ‘early spike’ this year.

Published : 27 Jan 2013, 05:40 AM
Updated : 27 Jan 2013, 05:44 AM

The Director of the government’s disease monitoring outfit, IEDCR, Prof Mahmudur Rahman on Sunday said two more died of the virus taking the total death toll this year to eight.

The new deaths were from Pabna and Rajshahi while one 8-month old boy is struggling for life in the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital.

The virus that infects a person only after drinking raw date sap and later can pass on to other people through contact is a cause of public health concern in Bangladesh since 2001, as it breaks out every year during Jan-Apr.

Drinking raw date or palm sap in the morning is an age-old practice in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas, but IEDCR suggests drinking boiled sap or molasses and washing hands with soap after caring patients.

The IEDCR Director told that the Health Education Bureau had been instructed by the health minister to launch mass media campaign.

“This year we saw an early spike of the virus, infecting 11 people within a couple of weeks,” he said.

He said they had sent nipah management guidelines for clinicians in every district where the virus is prevalent.

Visiting Director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Dr Thomas R. Frieden when asked by journalists said that it’s entirely a health education issue as drinking raw date sap can cause the infection.

“But changing behaviour is very hard,” he said and that they had a project with ICDDR,B in Dhaka to see ‘ways of reducing the risk by reducing raw date sap consumption.’

He said US CDC helps Bangladesh with testing materials to diagnose the virus.

This year IEDCR confirmed first death from nipah on Tuesday in Dhaka in a family who brought date sap from Bhaluka, an upazilla in Mymensignh. On Friday it confirmed five more deaths.

The fatality rate from the virus is nearly 80 percent while it is fully preventable if people shun the consumption of raw date sap.

It usually takes seven to eight days on an average between exposure and signs of symptoms — fever, altered mental status and seizure.

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.

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.

As of 2012, the virus has killed 136 of its 176 victims in 21 districts across Bangladesh.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher