In May, news reports were released the world over that a disease touted by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of ten potential upcoming large scale epidemic was found in India.
The disease, the Nipah virus, is a worrisome prospect. The disease has a seventy percent mortality rate, making the threat to life considerable. More troubling still is that there is no known vaccination for the disease, making fears of large outbreaks more pronounced.
The disease outbreak first occurred in Kerala at the beginning of May. Several people were taken ill and there were a small number of deaths associated with the disease in the area.
The disease is passed on from animals to humans and is most commonly known to be passed on through fruit bats. Bites or direct contact with the animal are not necessarily required to pass on the infection. One of the more common means of infection is through drinking raw date palm sap. Animals that have urinated or defecated on this date palm sap can leave traces of the virus, in turn passing the virus on to humans that consume the sap.
This infection route was made clearer in news headlines as Qatar put a temporary ban in place on all fruit and vegetable imports originating in Kerala. The rapid response to the disease outbreak has led to Qatar already revoking the ban.
Experts have credited a strong public health response with containing a deadly outbreak of Nipah virus in India in the same month that it began. No more cases of the virus have been reported as of May 29.
The response to the outbreak drew widespread praise. “The medical and public health response in Kerala prevented it from becoming much worse.” said Daniel R. Lucey, MD, MPH, adjunct professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center.
In total the infection was isolated to only nineteen individuals, of which seventeen died, surpassing all previous estimates of mortality rate due to the disease.
The findings of the investigation into the outbreak were presented at the CDC’s International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta. It was noted that a single initial disease patient was infected within the community. From this point all infections were noted to have occurred through human to human contact within hospitals.
In this context it was of the utmost importance that the isolation of disease cases was as rapid as it was. Due to the lethality and potential for rapid transmission of the virus, the outbreak could have been far worse and taken untold numbers of lives.