KARACHI: Amid growing concerns over the possible spread of the highly contagious Nipah virus to Pakistan, the Sindh government has released an advisory for prevention and control of the deadly pathogen.

“While currently there is no outbreak of the virus in Pakistan, neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh as well as Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia and Singapore are reporting Nipah cases,” the advisory released by Directorate General Health Services Sindh to hospitals said.

“Almost all the NiV outbreaks have previously occurred in winter to spring season [Dec to May],” it added.

“It’s mode of transmission includes direct contact with infected animals or infected persons or their body fluids including nasal or respiratory droplets. Symptoms may appear four to 14 days after exposure. The key signs of the infection include fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, respiratory issues, confusion, seizures and coma,” the provincial advisory said, emphasising the need for putting infection control measures in place at hospitals.

The NiV, according to the WHO, was first recognised in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia.

The virus can be transmitted to humans from animals (such as pigs and bats) or contaminated food 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 supportive care.

During the first recognised outbreak in Malaysia, which also affected Singapore, most human infections resulted from direct contact with sick pigs or their contaminated tissues.

Transmission is thought to have occurred via unprotected exposure to secretions from the pigs, or unprotected contact with the tissue of a sick animal.

In subsequent outbreaks in Bangladesh and India, consumption of fruits or fruit products (such as raw date palm juice) contaminated with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats was the most likely source of infection.

In infected people, it causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis. The virus can also cause severe disease in animals, resulting in significant economic losses for farmers.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2023

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