Nipah Virus in India: Nipah Virus antibodies detected in bats from Mahabaleshwar cave- Get full details

Researchers trapped two bat species - Leschenault's rousette (medium-sized fruit-eating bats) and common pipistrelle (tiny insectivorous bats) - using mist nets in a cave in Mahabaleshwar in March 2020.  

Created On: Jun 23, 2021 16:08 ISTModified On: Jun 23, 2021 16:08 IST
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Researchers have discovered the presence of antibodies against the Nipah virus (NiV) in some bat species from a cave in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra. The survey was jointly conducted by the National Institute of Virology and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The survey was conducted for studying the spread of the Nipah virus in Indian at species. The study is titled 'Detection of possible Nipah virus infection in Rousettus leschenaultii and Pipistrellus Pipistrellus bats in Maharashtra, India'.

The study found the virus and its antibodies in different bat species. It has been published in the Journal of Infection and Public Health. 

The Study: Key Highlights 

• Researchers trapped two bat species - Leschenault's rousette (medium-sized fruit-eating bats) and common pipistrelle (tiny insectivorous bats) - using mist nets in a cave in Mahabaleshwar in March 2020. 

• The bats were anaesthetised and then blood, throat, rectal swab samples were collected from them onsite. 

• Throat and rectal swab specimens were collected from all the bats.

• Following this, necropsy of ten bats of each species was performed at the containment facility of ICMR and NIV. 

• The survey was aimed at studying the prevalence of the Nipah virus (NiV) among the bats of India.

Study Results  

• The RNA was extracted from samples and Anti-NiV IgG antibodies were detected in a number of the samples.

• The researchers found that one bat each from R leschenaultii and P pipistrellus species tested positive for both NiV RNA and anti-NiV IgG antibodies.

• NIV scientist and one of the authors of the study, Dr. Pragya Yadav said that none of the bat species in Maharashtra had previously shown exposure to Nipah.

• NiV activity could not be detected in R. leschenaultii in any of the earlier investigations conducted during the last decade, despite processing several hundred bats including bats from the same location. 

Can this lead to another pandemic?

• According to the researchers, further investigations are required on the exposure of the R. leschenaultii bats to NiV, as the roosting and breeding habitats of the bat species vary greatly.

• As per the researchers, the sampled roost was age-old and the virus might have been circulating among the inhabitants at low levels and that is why it must not have been detected during earlier studies

• Alternatively, the researchers are also of the opinion that a new introduction might have occurred from P medius to Rousettus bats through NiV-contaminated fruits, as both share same fruit trees. 

• The study noted that NiV detection in P pipistrellus bats, which is an insectivorous species, and their role in spreading the virus to humans appear remote. The presence of NiV RNA in the bat saliva, however, poses a threat to humans. 

• Their positivity may be explained as they share the same habitat with R leschenaultii bats inside the cave, the study stated. 

Conclusion of Study

The conclusion of the study is that more studies will be required to understand the prevalence of the virus in bats, as only a few bats were screened during the present study. 

Significance

The development is significant because the Nipah virus is one of the top-10 global priority list pathogens identified by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Southeast Asian countries and some Indian states have been identified as potential hotspots for the NiV virus. 

What is -Nipah virus?

Nipah virus (NiV) is a zoonotic virus that is transmitted through specific types of fruit bats. The virus can both spread between people and also from other animals to people.

However, the spread typically requires direct contact with an infected source. The animal host reservoir for NiV is generally the fruit bat (genus Pteropus).

Nipah Virus Symptoms 

The initial symptoms of the Nipah virus may include:

-Fever

-Headache

-Cough

-Sore throat

-Difficulty breathing

-Vomiting

Some of the severe symptoms include: 

-Disorientation, drowsiness or confusion

-Seizures

-Brain swelling (encephalitis)

-Coma

The diagnosis is done based on symptoms and it is confirmed by laboratory testing.

Is Nipah Virus fatal?

The Nipah Virus has a high mortality rate and as of now, there are no medicines or vaccines for the disease. 

In comparison to COVID-19 that has Case Fatality Rate (CFR) between 1-2 percent, the CFR for Nipah virus infections is between 65-100 percent. 

Nipah virus outbreaks in India

India has so far seen four different outbreaks of the Nipah Virus with a case fatality rate ranging from 65 percent to 100 percent. The 2018 outbreak of the Nipah virus in India had a high mortality rate of 89 percent with 18 people out of the total 19 infected dying of infection.

This outbreak took place in Kozhikode district of Kerala state, which responded to the threat swiftly, immediately isolating patients suspected of having the infection and cordoning off the entire district and its surrounding areas. 

The state detected another case of Nipah in a young student in 2019 and it quickly deployed an extensive contact tracing system that was able to quickly test 329 people who had come into contact with the patient. Thus, preventing the further spread of the virus. There were no deaths this time. 

The first NiV outbreak in India was reported in West Bengal's Siliguri district in 2001, followed by another outbreak in Nadia district in West Bengal in 2007. 

The presence of NiV antibodies was also detected during earlier proactive studies in the Mynaguri and Dubri district of Assam and Cooch Behar area of West Bengal, both places situated close to the Bangladesh border.

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