The Nipah virus is spread by fruit bats
Photo By DEA / DANI-JESKE/De Agostini/Getty Images

At least three people have died from the Nipah virus (NiV) in southern India — and the entire subcontinent is on alert.

"Health department is doing everything possible to save the lives of the infected and prevent the advance of virus," the office of Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote on Twitter.

The victims — which could be up to 11 people — all  all died in Calicut district, according to Kerala health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan.

 

What is the Nipah virus?

The Nipah virus sounds eerily similar to the the mosquito-borne zika virus, but it’s much more dangerous with up to a 70 percent mortality rate.

Primarily carried by fruit bats, it was first identified in Kampung Sungai Nipah, Malaysia, back in 1998. According to the World Health Organization, the intermediate hosts were pigs — meaning it passed from the bats to the pigs and then humans — but a 2004 outbreak in Bangladesh started by eating sap from infected date palm trees. It’s also shown to be transmitted between humans, according to the WHO.

The symptoms of the Nipah virus are hard to understand, because some people don’t show any symptoms, while others experience fever, headache, mental confusion and encephalitis (inflammation in the brain). Forty percent of patients who contracted encephalitis in the initial 1998 outbreak died, but those who live experience long-term health problems, including personality changes and chronic convulsions.

Nipah virus treatment

Sadly, the treatment for the Nipah virus is limited to comfort care because there’s currently no vaccine. A vaccine for horses has been developed, leading to hope that a vaccine for humans is on the horizon.

But that’s not comforting for the families of those who have already died from the most recent Nipah virus outbreak, which included three members of the same family living in the Perambra in Kozhikode district of Kerala.

Is the Nipah virus in the United States?

There are no confirmed cases of the Nipah virus in the United States — and hopefully it’ll never land here.

Over 300 deaths between 1998 and 2008 were blamed on the Nipah virus, but Indian health officials are closely monitoring to the most recent Nipah virus victims to keep it from spreading — and to keep panic at bay.

Patients with the Nipah virus is being closely monitored

"Through secretions, the virus could spread from one person to another. It is a serious situation but there’s no need to panic," Kozhikode district medical officer Jayasree V told The Indian Express. "...We have asked the medical personnel to use all safety gear such as gloves and masks while dealing with potentially infected persons. The collector has already ordered the area around the home of the family with the initial deaths to be cordoned off."