Nipah virus warning: Brain-swelling sickness with 75% death rate could spark next pandemic

Nipah virus kills over a dozen people in Kerala, India

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Experts say Nipah virus, which causes brain swelling, is one of a number of viruses that could cause another pandemic. The warning comes as COVID-19 has killed more than two million people around the world.

Dr Rebecca Dutch, chair of the University of Kentucky’s department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, told the Sun: “Nipah is one of the viruses that could absolutely be the cause of a new pandemic.

“Several things about Nipah are very concerning.

“Many other viruses in that family transmit well between people, so there is concern that a Nipah variant with increased transmission could arise.

“The mortality rate for this virus is between 45 percent and 75 percent depending on the outbreak – so this is much higher than COVID-19.

“Nipah has been shown to transmit through food, as well as via contact with human or animal excretions.

“The incubation period for Nipah can be quite long, and it can be unclear if transmission can occur during this time.”

Dr Jonathan Epstein, vice president for science and outreach at the EcoHealth Alliance, added: “We know very little about the genetic variety of Nipah-related viruses in bats, and what we don’t want to happen is for a strain to emerge that is more transmissible among people.

“So far, Nipah is spread among close contact with an infected person, particularly someone with respiratory illness through droplets, and we generally don’t see large chains of transmission.

“However, given enough opportunity to spread from bats to people, and among people, a strain could emerge that is better adapted to spreading among people.

“This is a zoonotic virus knocking on the door, and we have to really work now to understand where human cases are occurring, and try to reduce opportunities for a spillover, so that it never gets the chance to adapt to humans.”

Dr Melanie Saville, director of vaccine research and development at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), warned the world needs to be ready for the next “big one”.

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Nipah virus has been flagged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a list of pathogens needing urgent research and development.

Fruit bats are the natural host of the virus.

It can be transmitted to humans from animals such as bats or pigs, or contaminated foods.

Nipah virus, which has an estimated fatality rate of 40 percent to 75 percent, can also be transmitted directly between people.

There have been a number of outbreaks of the deadly virus in Asia.

The disease can cause respiratory problems and swelling of the brain.

There is currently no treatment or vaccine available.

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