Officials in India fear Nipah virus outbreak after 12-year-old dies

As India ramps up its own COVID-19 vaccination effort after a slow start, the country’s health officials are racing to head off a new threat: an outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus.

According to CBS News, the containment effort is taking place in the southern state of Kerala. Several infections have been traced and a 12-year-old boy has died so far. The virus is considered deadlier than COVID, and so far 20 people who are considered primary contacts to the dead child have been quarantined or hospitalized. At least two hospital workers have suspected infections, as well.

Health workers collect blood samples from a goat to test for the virus after a 12-year-old boy died of the Nipah virus in Kozhikode, Kerala state, India, Tuesday, Sept.7, 2021. The southern Indian state is quickly ramping up efforts to stop a potential outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus, even as it continues to battle the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country. (Shijith. K/)

The boy died Sunday after a week in the hospital. After being admitted with a high fever, his condition worsened to include inflammation of his brain. Blood samples confirmed the Nipah infection.

Nipah is most frequently passed from animals to humans through direct contact, often after specific types of fruit bats pass the virus to livestock or pets. The last outbreak in India, which was also in Kerala, killed 17 members of an 18-person family. Their infections were traced to dead fruit bats found in the family’s drinking water well.

Symptoms often start mild but grow to include high fever and respiratory issues before devolving further to include brain swelling which can lead to coma and death. The virus is rarer but can be as much as 75% fatal, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus was first discovered in 1999 and has killed more than 260 people, all in South and Southeast Asia.

The WHO warns that fruit suspected as having come in contact with urine or saliva from infected bats can be safely consumed after being thoroughly washed and peeled. The organization advises fruit with visible bite marks in it to be discarded.

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