KOZHIKODE, India – A 12-year-old boy died from the Nipah virus last week, alarming Indian health officials over the threat of a potential epidemic.

The boy died on September 5 in the state of Kerala. Shortly after his death, health officials began tracing contacts, hoping to limit the spread in an area of ​​the country that was already struggling to contain COVID-19.

Hundreds of people who have been in contact with the child have been placed in isolation. Two days later, test samples from eight primary contacts came back negative.

“The fact that these eight immediate contacts tested negative is a great relief,” said Veena George, state health minister.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/nipah/about/index.html), the Nipah virus was discovered in 1999 after an outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore. Almost 300 humans have been infected and a third of them have died.

Although no epidemic has occurred in these two countries since 1999, Nipah infections occur every year in parts of Asia, usually in Bangladesh or India. Twelve people died from the Nipah virus in Kerala just three years ago.

The virus can spread from infected fruit bats directly to humans or indirectly by first infecting other animals, such as pigs. Malaysian and Singaporean authorities slaughtered more than a million pigs to control the outbreak in 1999.

An infected animal can transmit the virus to humans if that person has close contact with the animal or its bodily fluids (such as saliva or urine). From there, person-to-person spread is possible.

Road blockage due to Nipah affected areas in Chathamangalam Panjayat on September 8, 2021 in Kozhikode, India. (Photo by C. K Thanseer / DeFodi images via Getty Images)

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Mild cases can present with fever, headache, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and vomiting.

Patients with severe symptoms may present with disorientation, drowsiness or confusion, seizures, coma, brain swelling, or death. Between 1999 and 2018, experts said that Nipha infections resulted in death in 40 to 70 percent of cases.

There is no vaccine against the virus, nor any authorized treatment. Health care providers can only provide supportive care to control complications and keep patients comfortable.

In addition to frequent hand washing, the CDC said people can stop the spread of Nipah by avoiding contact with sick bats or pigs, avoiding areas where bats are known to roost, by avoiding the consumption of raw date palm sap, by avoiding the consumption of fruit that may be contaminated. by bats and avoid contact with the blood or body fluids of anyone known to be infected.

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