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Nipah transmission route unclear (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper III; Science & Technology)

Nipah virus in fruit bats

Another piece of the puzzle in Kerala’s Nipah virus outbreak has fallen into place, with Pune’s National Institute of Virology (NIV) confirming that the virus was found in fruit bats captured in Kozhikode. Out of the 51 Pteropus giganteus bats sampled by the NIV team from the Kozhikode epicentre of the outbreak, 11 had genetic material from the Nipah virus.

Transmission route is not yet established

The researchers still don’t know how the bats transmitted the infection to humans. This information is needed to prevent future outbreaks. In Bangladesh, which has seen multiple Nipah epidemics, patients tend to acquire the infection from drinking raw date-palm sap.

But date-palm sap is not consumed in Kerala.

What needs to be done?

The new finding also highlights the urgent need to step up surveillance of animal reservoirs of disease in India, such as bats and pigs.

For the study, the researchers sampled 107 bats from Cooch Behar and Jaipaiguri districts in West Bengal and Dhubri in Assam, all of which are close to Bangladesh, raising the probability that the virus is circulating there. They found nine out of the 107 samples to be positive for the virus. “This indicates that there are several States in India with the virus.

Low chances of transmission from bats

The researchers cautioned against bat culling in light of the NIV’s findings. In NIV’s investigations, the number of virus particles in the bats, or viral load, was very low. This means the possibility of a spillover to humans is extremely small.

Even when viral load is high, direct bat-to-human transmission is very rare, unless you have a scenario like Bangladesh, where people drink palm-sap. In Bangladesh, on the other hand, transmission from bats to humans occurred several times, in addition to person-to-person transmission.

Bats role in pollination

Further, bats pollinate 50% of the forests in Africa, Asia and Europe, and without them, fruits such as durians and mangoes wouldn’t exist.

(Adapted from the Hindu)

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