The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reported that the Nipah virus, known for its high fatality rate of 40 to 70 per cent, can be transmitted through respiratory droplets. Dr. Rajiv Bahl, the Director General of ICMR, shared this information during a press conference. In comparison, COVID-19 has a much lower fatality rate of only 2 to 3 per cent.
Bahl emphasized that Nipah is a zoonotic virus, meaning it can be transmitted from animals to humans, with fruit bats serving as the primary reservoirs. Apart from respiratory droplets, it can also spread through blood and bodily fluids. However, he noted that despite its high fatality rate, Nipah is not as easily transmissible as COVID-19, and outbreaks tend to be relatively small, with the maximum number of cases reaching around 100.
Kerala experienced its fourth outbreak of Nipah since 2018
The Nipah virus was first identified in 1999 and has been observed in several countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and India. Kerala, in southern India, has experienced its fourth outbreak of Nipah since 2018. The most recent cases occurred approximately 15 kilometres from the site of the initial Nipah outbreak in Kozhikode in May 2018, and another outbreak occurred in 2021. A sporadic case also emerged in Kochi in June 2019.
In the current outbreak, six individuals have been infected, resulting in two deaths. Dr. Bahl emphasized that containment measures are crucial since there are currently no vaccines or medications available for Nipah.
Additionally, India is procuring 20 more doses of the monoclonal antibody M102.4 from Australia. This antibody, which has been tested on 14 individuals globally with no reported fatalities, will be administered on compassionate grounds, pending approval by the Kerala government and local doctors. Each person requires two doses of the antibody.
The M102.4 antibody, developed by researchers in Queensland, Australia, is stored at -80 degrees Celsius and remains stable for five years. Although India received this vaccine in 2018, it was not used at that time due to a decrease in Nipah virus cases. Furthermore, ICMR has deployed its first mobile Biosafety Level-3 (BSIII) laboratory in Kozhikode to conduct on-ground testing of Nipah cases.