The Nipah virus has a mortality of up to 75% and an incubation period of up to 45 days, so it could pose a new global threat
The Bangkok-based Red Cross Center for Health Sciences and Emerging Infectious Diseases in Thailand is studying different viruses that can pass from animals to humans and is targeting the Nipah, a powerful virus that – if left unchecked – could cause the next pandemic.
Nipah virus (NIV) infection is a new emerging zoonosis that causes serious illness in both animals and humans. The focus of the studies is on bats and the types of coronaviruses of which they are transmitters.
Its location is strategic, since Asia is a geographical place where new infectious diseases are emerging, which can be fatal to humans. Fruit bats are the hosts for this virus, which has a mortality rate of between 40 and 75%.
In the list of “potential epidemic viruses“of the World Health Organization (WHO), this type of coronavirus is among the top 10 names. This pathogen can be transmitted from human-animal contact or through the consumption of “contaminated food”.
Of the outbreaks they analyzed in the region, they found that the incubation period is up to 45 days and can pass without symptoms. This makes it a dangerous virus that can be easily transmitted between animals and humans, especially when it is unknown to be sick.
The registered symptoms and effects caused by this disease are: “cough, sore throat, pain and fatigue, and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can cause seizures and death,” according to the BBC.
The bats, again under the magnifying glass
Supaporn Wacharapluesadee is known as a “virus hunter” in Thailand. Last year, when the first samples of a virus originating in Wuhan, China, that affected the respiratory tract arrived at his laboratory, he quickly began to work.
He runs the Center for Health Sciences and Emerging Infectious Diseases of the Thai Red Cross in Bangkok. For the past 10 years he was part of Predict, a global project to detect and stop diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. She also knows focused on the bats.
Thanks to their experience, they were able to understand the disease in just a few days, detecting the first case of COVID-19 outside of China, indicated BBC Mundo. They found that, in addition to being a new virus that did not originate in humans, it was more closely related to the coronaviruses they had already found in bats.
Thanks to the preliminary information, the government was able to act quickly to quarantine patients and advise citizens. And despite being a country of almost 70 million inhabitants, a year later, on January 3, 2021, Thailand had registered 8,955 cases and 65 deaths.
However, another virus with a higher mortality rate than COVID-19 has already appeared that worries these scientists.
The next threat
Wacharapluesadee is already looking towards the next pandemic. Asia has a large number of new infectious diseasesAs its tropical regions have a rich variety of biodiversity, which means that they are also home to a large number of pathogens.
The growth of human populations and the increased contact between people and wild animals in these regions also increase the risk factor.
In the course of a project in which he sampled thousands of bats, Wacharapluesadee and his colleagues already they discovered many new viruses, coronaviruses and other types, which could spread to humans.
Among these viruses is Nipah, which spreads among fruit bat populations. “It is a great concern because there is no treatment and this virus has a high mortality rate,” Wacharapluesadee said.
The mortality rate Nipah varies between 40% and 75%, depending on where the outbreak occurs.
Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reviews the long list of pathogens that could cause a public health emergency to decide how to prioritize its research and development funding. The Nipah virus is in the top 10. And since there have been several outbreaks in Asia already, we probably haven’t seen the last one.
Why is the Nipah virus so dangerous?
There are several reasons why the virus Nipah is so sinister. It has a long incubation period of up to 45 days, so there is a high probability that an infected person or animal will spread it. It can also infect a wide range of animals and can be spread by direct contact or by consuming contaminated food.
Someone with the Nipah virus may experience respiratory symptoms that include cough, sore throat, aches and pains, and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can cause seizures and death.
It is spread from animals to humans in places like the morning market in Battambang, Cambodia, which is under dozens of trees where fruit bats rest, defecating and urinating on anything that passes under them.
“People and stray dogs walk under buildings every day exposed to bats urine“Veasna Duong, head of the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute scientific research laboratory in Phnom Penh and a colleague and collaborator of Wacharapluesadee, told the BBC.
Battambang Market is one of many places where Duong has identified fruit bats and other animals that come into contact with humans on a daily basis in Cambodia. That is why it is considered a place of “high risk exchange” by the aforementioned scientific team.
“This type of exposure could cause the virus to mutate, which could cause a pandemic,” Duong says. “We observe [murciélagos frugívoros] here and in Thailand, in markets, places of worship, schools and tourist places like Angkor Wat, where, for example, there is a big nest of bats there, “he says. In a normal year, Angkor Wat receives 2.6 million visitors .
Duong and his team launched a GPS tracking program for bats
From 2013 to 2016, Duong and his team launched a GPS tracking program to understand more about fruit bats and the Nipah virus, and to compare the activities of Cambodian bats with bats in other hotspot regions.
Two of these places are Bangladesh and India. Both countries experienced Nipah outbreaks in the past and are probably related to the consumption of date palm juice.
At night, the infected bats fly over the date palm plantations and lick the juice that spilled from the tree and that the locals collect through a bowl attached to the tree.
In 11 different outbreaks of Nipah in Bangladesh between 2001 and 2011, 196 people with Nipah were detected. Of them 150 died.
Date palm juice is also popular in Cambodia, where Duong and his team have found that fruit bats in Cambodia fly far, up to 100 km each night, to find fruit.
That means humans in these regions need to worry not only about being too close to bats, but also consuming products that the bats could have contaminated. Duong and his team also identified other high risk situations.
The Bat feces are a popular fertilizer in Cambodia and Thailand And in rural areas with few job opportunities, selling bat droppings can be a way to earn a living.
Duong identified many places where locals encouraged fruit bats, also known as flying foxes, to perch near their homes in order to collect and sell their guano. They have no idea of the risks they face in doing so. “60% of the people we interviewed did not know that bats transmit disease. There is still a great lack of knowledge“says Duong, who believes that education campaigns are needed on this issue.