Amid Covid-19 pandemic, Nipah Virus raises new risks of another deadly infection

As the deadly Nipah Virus emerged in India, Nepal is prone to the disease as the two countries share an open border. Experts advise extreme caution and early prevention measures.

Ashim Neupane

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Kathmandu: Earlier this week, a 12-year-old boy from the southern part of India died of complications due to the deadly Nipah Virus. 

After a Nipah virus-related death emerged from India, the government in Nepal has warned the public to stay alert as Nepal shares an open border with the southern neighbor.

With open borders and unchecked cross-border movements, Nepal is vulnerable to Nipah Virus, experts say.

According to virologist Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, at a time when Covid-19 has already ravaged the country, the emergence of the Nipah Virus in India is a matter of worry as the virus has symptoms similar to that of Covid-19. “Some symptoms like body pain, throat pain, fever, among others, resemble with Covid-19. The government must be actively involved in tracking people coming from the Nipah Virus-affected regions in India,” said Pun.

The Health Ministry has already said the risk of the Nipah Virus outbreak and spread in Nepal could not be ruled out as Nepal and India share a long open border.

“The Nipah Virus is a zoonotic disease, and the mortality rate is up to 75 percent. We must stay cautious as Nipah Virus has symptoms similar to that of Covid-19,” said Dr Krishna Prasad Paudel, who is the spokesperson for the Health Ministry.

Nipah virus can be transmitted to humans from animals (such as bats or pigs), or contaminated foods, and can also be transmitted directly from human-to-human. “Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural host of Nipah virus. There is no treatment or vaccine available for either people or animals. The primary treatment for humans is only providing supportive care,” according to the World Health Organization.

The Health Ministry has advised people to clean fruits before consuming, eat properly cooked vegetables and meat, keep farms clean, and use protective gear in farms to be safe from the Nipah Virus.

When asked how the government is planning to prevent the spread of Nipah Virus in Nepal, spokesperson Paudel said 118 hospitals have been directed to remain alert. “If people show Covid-19-like symptoms, and their situation deteriorates quickly, the hospitals will send the samples of patients to Kathmandu for testing,” he said.

According to him, the testing for Nipah Virus can only be conducted at the state-owned National Public Health Laboratory based at Teku in Kathmandu.

“As Nipah Virus is deadly, and the mortality rate is excessively high, the government should act at the earliest. In the initial days of Covid-19, the government reacted late, as a result, the virus spread in Nepal like a wildfire in no time,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and the Disease Control Division.

“There is an infectious disease act, but it is limited to papers. How can the government control infectious diseases if the law for its prevention is only limited in papers?” he questioned.

He further added that the government must work on trapping bats–the primary host of the Nipah Virus–in the districts near the border region for testing. “Likewise, samples must be taken from fruits from the forest areas in the bordering districts for testing before it is too late,” he concluded.

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