Fruit Bats Spread Rare Brain Damaging Virus

Seventeen people have died in the Indian state Kerala from the Nipah virus (NiV), a disease that causes acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis (swelling of the brain). There is no vaccine for Nipah virus.

It is spread primarily by fruit bats, and is transmitted to humans “through secretions from the bat to the fruit it feeds on or touches.” According to the CDC, transmission to humans can also occur “after direct contact with infected bats, infected pigs, or from other NiV infected people.” Person to person transmission is commonly seen among family and caregivers of someone infected. Papers report that a nurse who was treating victims recently died of the disease herself.

Fruits and vegetables imported from the state of Kerala have been banned and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention has also issued a travel warning. State Health Minister KK Shailaja says that although it seems the first wave of the outbreak may be over, people should prepare for a second wave:

“The presence of Nipah virus can be confirmed only when the affected people show symptoms. So it is very essential for the affected people to be alert till their incubation period is over…The government has made elaborate arrangements to check the spread of the disease and the people who closely engaged with the Nipah infected people should avoid public gatherings and meeting till the end of the incubation period.”

Looming Swine

A new round of the swine flu, which has been exploding in the Southern Hemisphere, could be making its way to the Northern Hemisphere in a matter of weeks.  There will be deaths,  but there are always deaths as a result of the flu.  As Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health who has been helping the CDC project the severity of the upcoming wave noted, “It’s fair to say there will be tens of millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths. That’s not atypical. It just depends on how many tens of thousands.”

The Washington Post provides a good summary, noting that:

Perhaps more important, in every country where the virus has spread, it has continued to affect children and young adults much more commonly than typical flu viruses.

“In a pandemic where a greater fraction of illness and deaths occur in kids and young adults, that will be clearly noticeable to the public. There will be a sense that this is a greater severity of illness even if fewer people die overall,” the CDC’s Bresee said.

Most of those who have developed serious illness and died have had other health problems. But those include many common conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and obesity. Pregnant women appear to be especially at risk. And the virus can cause severe illness and death in otherwise healthy people in perhaps a third of cases.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the virus has been more intense in some places, including those with few resources.  Countries with fragile health care like India and South Africa could be quickly overwhelmed if the swine flu starts infected a large number of people.

I guess we will have to wait and see.  Preferably with suspenseful music in the background.

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