Monitoring the Deadly Nipah Virus
Nipah virus first emerged in Malaysia in 1998, infecting 265 people and resulting in more than 100 deaths in a single outbreak. This lethal virus was first identified in pigs and pig farmers. It spread quickly as infected pigs were bought and sold, eventually infecting abattoir workers in Singapore. The Malaysian government was forced to stop pig exports and culled almost half of its pig population, costing the industry millions of dollars. This severe action halted the spread of this newly discovered disease but many questions remained to its origins and pathways.
Joint investigations suggest a complex ecology for Nipah virus and researchers identified fruit bats as the wildlife reservoir of the virus. In 2001, an outbreak of Nipah-like virus erupted in Bangladesh resulting in many human fatalities. Bangladesh has experienced outbreaks every year since then and EcoHealth Alliance scientists fear the virus has pandemic potential since it is easily transmissible among wildlife, people and livestock. The most recent outbreak that occurred in Bangladesh in 2004 had a case fatality rate of nearly 80 percent – a staggering figure.
Our work, in cooperation with local and international partners, involves catching and testing fruit bats, identifying exposure risk to humans, using mathematical models to understand the dynamics of transmission, and predicting how likely it is to become pandemic. EcoHealth Alliance’s goal is to find methods to prevent transmission while continuing to work on ways to protect fruit bats in their natural habitat.