Health experts warn of threat of Nipah virus
LONDON: The Nipah virus carried by bats has already caused human outbreaks across South and South-east Asia and has "serious epidemic potential", global health and infectious disease specialists said yesterday.
The virus, identified in 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore, has sparked outbreaks with mortality rates of between 40 per cent and 90 per cent and spread thousands of kilometres to Bangladesh and India - yet there are no drugs or vaccines against it, they said.
"Twenty years have passed since its discovery, but the world is still not adequately equipped to tackle the global health threat posed by Nipah virus," said Mr Richard Hatchett, chief executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which is co-leading a two-day Nipah conference in Singapore that started yesterday.
Cepi was set up in 2017 to try to speed up the development of vaccines against newly emerging and unknown infectious diseases.
Among its first disease targets is Nipah, a virus carried primarily by certain types of fruit bats and pigs and which can also be transmitted directly from person to person as well as through contaminated food.
Within two years of being first discovered, Nipah had spread to Bangladesh, where it has caused several outbreaks since 2001.
In 2018, a Nipah outbreak in Kerala, India, killed 17 people.
"The virus has serious epidemic potential, because pteropus fruit bats that carry the virus are found throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, which are home to more than two billion people," said Mr Hatchett. - REUTERS