The latest Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala is the third such outbreak in the state. The initial Nipah virus outbreak in southern India was first identified in Kozhikode in May 2018 and then again in 2021. According to the World Health Organization, "Nipah virus infection is a zoonotic illness that is transmitted to people from animals, and can also be transmitted through contaminated food or directly from person to person. In infected people, it causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis. The virus can also cause severe disease in animals such as pigs, resulting in significant economic losses for farmers."
Dr Chandra Sekhar Singha, Consultant, MBBS, MD- Pediatrics, Madhukar Rainbow Children's Hospital, Delhi, shares, "Nipah Virus, a zoonotic pathogen originating from animals, poses a significant threat, leading to severe respiratory and neurological symptoms in individuals of all age groups, including children. While relatively rare, Nipah virus infection demands serious attention due to its potential for grave consequences." The doctor shares the symptoms to look out for in children and steps to take for prevention and cure.
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Nipah Virus In Kids: Symptoms to Note
Dr Chandra Sekhar Singha says that Nipah Virus infection can present a diagnostic challenge in children, as it often resembles flu-like symptoms. "Although the symptoms in children mirror those seen in adults, they may be more prone to experiencing severe complications. Typically, the initial symptoms of Nipah virus infection manifest approximately 4-14 days after exposure to the virus. These symptoms encompass fever, headache, cough, sore throat, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, and weakness. It is essential to note that these symptoms can rapidly escalate, underscoring the utmost importance of promptly seeking medical attention should any of these signs appear in a child," Dr Singha says.
In certain instances, the virus can lead to more severe complications, including encephalitis (characterized by brain swelling), seizures, coma, severe respiratory distress, and tragically, even fatalities, says Dr Singha. He warns, "Children with Nipah virus infection are at particularly high risk of developing encephalitis. Encephalitis can cause a variety of neurological symptoms, including drowsiness, confusion, disorientation, irritability, hallucinations, seizures and coma."
Treatment for Nipah Virus Infection
Dr Singha points out that Nipah virus infection does not currently have a targeted treatment. "Instead, medical care primarily focuses on providing supportive measures to alleviate symptoms and mitigate potential complications. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary, involving interventions like mechanical ventilation to assist with breathing and the administration of intravenous fluids to sustain adequate hydration levels," the doctor shares.
Nipah Virus Infection: Precautions and Prevention
Dr Chandra Sekhar Singha says that there are several proactive measures that individuals can take to safeguard themselves and their children from Nipah virus infection, including:
- Steering clear of interactions with animals like bats and pigs that may carry the virus.
- Exercising caution by avoiding regions where bats are known to gather.
- During outbreaks, implementing rigorous quarantine protocols to contain the virus and prevent its spread to unaffected areas.
- Refraining from consuming or drinking items that could potentially be contaminated, such as unprocessed date palm sap, unwashed fruit, or fruit found on the ground.
- Practicing regular handwashing, particularly after potential exposure to animals or contaminated environments.
- Cooking meat and eggs thoroughly before consumption to reduce the risk of infection.
- Not contacting with the bodily fluids of individuals confirmed to be infected with the Nipah virus.