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THE CONTEXT: There have been frequent outbreaks of Nipah in Kerala in recent years. From September 12 to 15, 2023 India’s health ministry reported six laboratory-confirmed Nipah virus cases, including two deaths, in Kozhikode district in the southern state of Kerala. The WHO said as of September 27, 1,288 contacts of the confirmed cases were traced, including high-risk contacts and healthcare workers, who are under quarantine and monitoring for 21 days. This article explains in detail the various aspects of the outbreak of Nipah Virus from the UPSC perspective.
ABOUT NIPAH VIRUS
Nipah virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus that can infect both animals and humans. It is a member of the Henipavirus genus in the Paramyxoviridae family. NiV was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness in pigs and humans in Malaysia and Singapore. Since then, outbreaks have occurred almost annually in parts of Asia, primarily Bangladesh and India. There are currently no drugs or vaccines specific for Nipah virus infection although WHO has identified Nipah as a priority disease for the WHO Research and Development Blueprint. Intensive supportive care is recommended to treat severe respiratory and neurologic complications.
Source of Nipah Virus
- The source of Nipah virus (NiV) is the fruit bat (genus Pteropus), also known as the flying fox.
- Fruit bats are natural hosts of NiV and do not show any signs of illness when they are infected.
- Nipah virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it can be transmitted from animals to humans.
- NiV is transmitted from fruit bats to other animals, such as pigs, and to people through direct contact with their bodily fluids or through contaminated food or water.
- If a person then eats the infected pig meat, they can also become infected with NiV.
- Human-to-human transmission of NiV is thought to occur through close contact with the secretions or excretions of an infected person. This can include contact with the person’s saliva, urine, feces, or respiratory secretions.
- In the first known NiV outbreak in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999, the virus was transmitted to people through contact with infected pigs. The outbreak resulted in more than 250 cases and over 100 deaths.
- In subsequent NiV outbreaks in Bangladesh and India, the virus has been transmitted to people through a variety of routes, including:
- Consumption of contaminated food or water, such as raw date palm juice contaminated with bat urine or saliva.
- Direct contact with infected pigs or bats
- Human-to-human transmission through direct contact with the blood, body fluids, or respiratory secretions of an infected person
- In the 2001 NiV outbreak in Siliguri, India, transmission of the virus was also reported within a health-care setting, where 75% of cases occurred among hospital staff or visitors.
The symptoms of Nipah virus (NiV) infection range from mild to severe. Some people may have no symptoms at all, while others may develop encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain. Encephalitis can lead to a variety of neurological symptoms, including headache, fever, confusion, seizures, and coma. Death can occur in 40-75% of cases.
The initial symptoms of NiV infection typically appear 4-14 days after exposure to the virus. These symptoms are Fever, Headache, Muscle pain, Vomiting, Sore throat, Cough, Difficulty breathing.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR NIPAH VIRUS?
- There is no specific treatment for Nipah virus (NiV) infection. Treatment is supportive and includes providing the patient with fluids, oxygen, and medications to control seizures and other symptoms.
- In some cases, patients may need to be hospitalized in an intensive care unit (ICU) to receive specialized care.
- Researchers are working to develop specific treatments for NiV infection, but there are currently no licensed drugs or vaccines available.
HOW CAN NIPAH VIRUS TRANSMISSION BE PREVENTED?
There is no vaccine available for Nipah virus (NiV) infection. Some measures to help prevent Nipah virus infection includes-
- Raising awareness about its spread and transmission.
- Avoid contact with sick bats and pigs.
- Reducing the risk of bat-to-human transmission
- Reducing the risk of animal-to-human transmission by using Gloves and other protective clothing.
- Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water.
IS THERE A VACCINE FOR NIPAH VIRUS?
- No, there is no currently licensed vaccine for Nipah virus (NiV) infection. However, several NiV vaccines are in development, and some have shown promising results in preclinical and clinical trials.
- One of the most promising NiV vaccines is an mRNA-based vaccine developed by Moderna. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in animal studies, and it is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials in humans.
- Another promising NiV vaccine is a recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) vaccine developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The vaccine has also been shown to be safe and effective in animal studies, and it is currently in Phase 2 clinical trials in humans.
Some of the potential treatments that are being investigated include:
- Monoclonal antibodies: These are laboratory-produced proteins that can recognize and bind to specific viruses, such as NiV. Monoclonal antibodies can help to neutralize the virus and prevent it from infecting cells.
- Antiviral drugs: These drugs can work by inhibiting the replication of the virus or by killing infected cells.
- Vaccines: Vaccines can help to protect people from NiV infection by stimulating the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against the virus.
WHAT ARE MONOCLONAL ANTIBODIES?
- Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the behaviour of antibodies produced by the immune system to protect against diseases and foreign substances.
- An antibody attaches itself to an antigen – a foreign substance, usually a disease-causing molecule – and helps the immune system eliminate it from the body.
- Monoclonal antibodies are specifically designed to target certain antigens.
- Niels K. Jerne, Georges J.F. Köhler and César Milstein were awarded the medicine Nobel Prize in 1984 for their work on the “the principle for production of monoclonal antibodies”.
What is m102.4?
- It is a “potent, fully human” monoclonal antibody that neutralises Hendra and Nipah viruses, both outside and inside of living organisms.
- The antibody has passed phase-one clinical trials, which means that researchers tested it with a relatively small number of people to estimate the right dose of treatment that also doesn’t cause side effects.
How do monoclonal antibodies work?
- Monoclonal antibodies are specifically engineered and generated to target a disease. They are meant to attach themselves to the specific disease causing antigen. An antigen is most likely to be a protein.
- Köhler and Dr. Milstein, who established a generation of monoclonal antibodies for use in humans in 1975, used this principle to describe the hybridoma a fusion cell made up of B cells (white blood cells that produce antibodies) and myeloma cells (abnormal plasma cells). These hybrid cells allowed the researchers to produce a single antibody clone, which came to be known as a monoclonal antibody.
- Most successful monoclonal antibodies during the pandemic were engineered to bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The binding prevented the protein from exercising its regular functions, including its ability to infect other cells.
- The initial technology of producing hybridoma in mice was unsustainable. Today, these antibodies are made using recombinant DNA technology. Here, the gene that codes for the monoclonal antibody’s binding region also known as the variable region is isolated from a B cell or synthesised in the laboratory.
- This antibody is then introduced into a host cell, often a bacterium or a mammalian cell, using recombinant DNA technology (which involves manipulating DNA material outside an organism to obtain specific traits or characteristics).
- The host cells, called bioreactors, produce large quantities of the monoclonal antibodies which are extracted, purified, and readied for use as desired.
- Glycoproteins are one of the major components of viruses that cause diseases in humans. According to a research paper published in October 2020, the m102.4 monoclonal antibody binds itself to the immunodominant receptor-binding glycoprotein of the Nipah virus, potentially neutralising it.
ICMR RESPONSE TO NIPAH VIRUS OUTBREAK IN KERALA
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has taken a number of steps to respond to the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala. These steps include:
- Sending a team of experts to Kerala to help with the outbreak response. The team is providing technical support to the state government on case management, contact tracing, and surveillance.
- Providing diagnostic tests for Nipah virus to laboratories in Kerala. The ICMR has also provided training to laboratory staff on how to perform the tests.
- Developing a vaccine for Nipah virus. The ICMR is working with a number of partners to develop a vaccine for Nipah virus. The vaccine is currently in preclinical trials, and the ICMR is hoping to start clinical trials in the near future.
- Raising awareness of Nipah virus and how to prevent infection. The ICMR is working with the state government and other stakeholders to raise awareness of Nipah virus and how to prevent infection. This includes developing educational materials and conducting public awareness campaigns.
- The ICMR is working with other national and international organizations to respond to the Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala. The ICMR is committed to working with all stakeholders to control the outbreak and protect public health.
HOW THE KERALA GOVERNMENT IS MANAGING THE OUTBREAK OF NIPAH VIRUS?
The Kerala government is managing the outbreak of Nipah virus in a comprehensive and effective manner, drawing on lessons learned from previous outbreaks in the state. The key components of the state’s response include:
- Early detection and reporting:The government has issued guidelines to all healthcare facilities to be on the lookout for suspected cases of Nipah virus and to report them immediately to the Kerala’s Health department and control room. It is ensured that cases are identified and isolated early, which is essential for preventing further transmission of the virus.
- Contact tracing and quarantine:The government is tracing all contacts of confirmed cases and placing them under quarantine for 21 days. It helps to identify and isolate any potential cases of infection, and to prevent the virus from spreading to the wider community.
- Public health education and awareness: The government is conducting public health education campaigns to raise awareness about Nipah virus, its symptoms, and how to prevent infection. It includes distributing information materials, conducting door-to-door visits, and using social media platforms.
- Clinical management:The government has established dedicated isolation wards for Nipah virus patients in major hospitals across the state. These wards are staffed by trained healthcare professionals and equipped with the necessary medical supplies and equipment to provide optimal care to patients.
- Research and development:The government is supporting research and development into Nipah virus, including the development of vaccines and treatments. This is essential for improving the prevention and management of Nipah virus outbreaks in the future.
The Kerala government is working with the central government and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that the outbreak is brought under control as quickly as possible. The state government’s response to the Nipah virus outbreak has been praised by public health experts and the WHO.
THE CHALLENGES FACED BY INDIA IN THE WAKE OF A NIPAH VIRUS OUTBREAK
RAPID IDENTIFICATION AND DIAGNOSIS
- One of the primary challenges is the rapid identification and diagnosis of Nipah virus cases. Accurate and timely diagnosis is crucial for implementing control measures and providing appropriate care to patients.
- Managing and containing Nipah virus outbreaks require strict infection control measures, which can be challenging to implement, especially in resource-limited healthcare settings. Adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and training for healthcare workers are essential.
- Ensuring that the public is aware of the risks associated with Nipah virus and understands preventive measures is critical. Raising public awareness and addressing misconceptions can be a challenge.
CONTACT TRACING AND QUARANTINE
- Identifying and monitoring individuals who have come into contact with confirmed cases is vital to prevent further transmission. This can be logistically challenging and resource-intensive.
- A sudden outbreak can strain healthcare facilities and resources. Maintaining adequate healthcare capacity to manage Nipah virus cases while still providing care for other medical conditions is a significant challenge.
INFECTIONS FROM OUTSIDE THE COUNTRY
- Given that infectious diseases do not respect borders, international collaboration with neighboring countries and global health organizations is crucial to effectively manage and contain Nipah virus outbreaks.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACTS
- Outbreaks can have economic and social impacts, including travel restrictions, trade disruptions, and economic strain. Balancing public health measures with these broader impacts is a challenge.
PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE PLANS
- Develop and regularly update preparedness and response plans at the national, state, and local levels. These plans should include clear protocols for early detection, case management, contact tracing, and isolation measures.
SURVEILLANCE AND EARLY DETECTION
- Strengthen surveillance systems to detect Nipah virus cases early. This includes improving laboratory testing capabilities and monitoring and reporting cases in both humans and animals.
RESEARCH AND VACCINE DEVELOPMENT
- Continue research into the Nipah virus, including efforts to develop vaccines, antiviral treatments, and diagnostic tools. Collaborate with national and international research organizations to accelerate these efforts.
HEALTHCARE WORKER TRAINING
- Conduct regular training and drills for healthcare workers to ensure they are well-prepared to handle Nipah virus cases. Adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and training in its use are essential.
ONE HEALTH APPROACH
- Implement a One Health approach that recognizes the interconnections between human, animal, and environmental health. This approach can help in monitoring and preventing zoonotic diseases like Nipah virus.
ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE (AMR)
- Be vigilant about the potential misuse of antibiotics during Nipah virus outbreaks, which can contribute to antimicrobial resistance. Promote judicious use of antibiotics.
RESEARCH ON BAT BEHAVIOR AND ECOLOGY
- Conduct research on the behavior and ecology of fruit bats, the reservoir for Nipah virus, to inform strategies for minimizing the risk of spillover to humans.
- Develop and enforce regulatory frameworks for handling and transporting animals, especially those known to carry Nipah virus.
THE CONCLUSION: Nipah virus outbreaks in India represent a significant public health challenge. Such outbreaks not only threaten public health but pose major challenge for economic growth of the country. It is crucial for Indian health agencies to focus on preparedness, surveillance, early detection, and rapid response. There should be more investment in vaccine development and research for such zoonotic diseases.
UPSC PERSPECTIVE QUESTIONS
Q.1 How does the Nipah virus spread? Why Kerala has been the epicentre of sporadic outbreaks of Nipah virus? Is there a cure for this ‘emerging zoonotic disease’?
Q.2 Discuss the challenges of preventing and managing the outbreak of Nipah Virus in India.
UPSC PREVIOUS QUESTIONS
Q.1 COVID-19 pandemic accelerated class inequalities and poverty in India. Comment. (UPSC- 2020)
Q.2 COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented tigation. devastation worldwide. However, technological advancements are being availed readily to win over the crisis. Give an account of how technology was sought to aid management of the pandemic. (UPSC- 2020)Spread the Word