MUMBAI: India began a fresh round of tests to trace the origin of a rare brain-damaging virus that has killed 13 people, a health official said on Monday, as initial tests on animals suspected of carrying the Nipah virus showed no sign of the disease.

All animal samples, including those from bats, cattle, goats and pigs from the southern state of Kerala, sent to the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases, in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, were negative for Nipah, said animal husbandry officer A. Mohandas.

The department was now collecting samples of fruit bats from Perambra, the suspected epicentre of the infection and nearby areas, Mohandas said.

Separately, tests run on dead bats in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh were negative for Nipah, an official there said.

The dead bats were discovered on the roof of a school and had triggered a new Nipah scare last week.

Of some 116 suspected cases sent for testing in recent weeks, 15 have been confirmed as Nipah, the Kerala government said on its website http://bit.ly/2GUSi3T on Monday.

Thirteen of those 15 people have died and two are undergoing treatment.

The latest victim was a 26-year-old rickshaw driver from Kerala’s Kozhikode district who died on the weekend, hospital officials told Reuters.

No confirmed cases of the virus have yet been found outside Kerala, despite fears it has spread.

Some neighbouring states including Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka have sent samples for testing of people who reported Nipah-like symptoms in the last few days.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which is spread through body fluids and can cause encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

The usual treatment is to provide supportive care.

The Nipah virus was first identified in 1999, after farmers and others who had come in contact with infected pigs in Malaysia and Singapore developed severe respiratory problems and inflammation in the brain in 1999.

Nearly 300 people were diagnosed with the disease, and more than 100 of them died, according to the CDC.

Symptoms typically present one to two weeks after exposure and can include fever and headache, convulsions, respiratory and neurological problems, according to the agency.

The virus has a mortality rate of 75 per cent, according to WHO.

Infectious disease outbreaks can be a challenge in India, the world’s second most populous country, where infection control and surveillance systems are weak, leading to hundreds of deaths annually from diseases such as mosquito-borne dengue.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said last week that Profectus BioSciences and Emergent BioSolutions would receive up to $25 million to accelerate work on a vaccine against Nipah virus.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2018

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