Deadly new virus a scourge in rural Bangladesh

April 3rd, 2008 - 12:57 pm ICT by admin  

London, April 3 (IANS) Nipah, a new and deadly virus that originated in Malaysia 10 years ago, is killing nearly three-fourths of the victims it infects in rural Bangladesh. People are catching the infection by drinking date palm juice or probably by eating fruit contaminated by the virus, or through contact with infected animals, according to a presentation Thursday at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Edinburgh.

Nine outbreaks have been reported in Bangladesh since 2001, which has killed 40 to 100 percent of the victims, according to Jahangir Hossain of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDR) in Dhaka.

There was also a mention of the virus affecting some parts of rural India, but no details were provided.

Fruit bats are a natural reservoir of Nipah virus. The first outbreaks in Singapore and Malaysia started when pigs on farms ate fruit already bitten by infected bats and dropped near their pens.

These pigs developed coughs and breathing difficulties, and an epidemic spread due to the pig trade. Pig farmers and abattoir workers picked up the infection from sick pigs.

“Three outbreaks in Bangladesh were caused when people ate fresh date palm sap, a local sweet delicacy, which had been contaminated by bats,” said Hossain.

“Because both people and animals in Bangladesh often eat fresh date palm sap and fruits which have been bitten by bats, contaminated food and domestic animals form an important transmission route for Nipah virus to infect people”.

Researchers have been trying to discover the way Nipah virus outbreaks start and to identify the factors that could help prevent virus transmission in the future.

The large outbreak in pigs in Malaysia and Singapore caused the biggest outbreak in humans so far. In one such outbreak in Bangladesh, people became infected after contact with sick cows, and close contact with pig herds was associated with virus transmission in another outbreak.

“We are working with local date palm sap collectors to learn about traditional practices that prevent bats from getting at and contaminating the sap,” said Hossain.

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