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Nipah and Ebola, a potential multi-purpose drug

A 23-year-old man in the Ernakulam district of Kerala tested positive in initial examinations for the Nipah virus. Are new tools needed in the fight against the disease?

The village of Kampung Sungai Nipah in Malaysia, where the first outbreak of the Nipah virus occurred in 1998. Image credit: Malekhanif at Malay Wikipedia [GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons
It was thought, due to the state government’s effective response to an outbreak of the disease last year, that the virus was a problem of the past. This recent case may indicate otherwise. Due to the disease being transmitted to humans from animals it is possible that the virus is still prevalent in India even when no humans are currently infected. This opens up the possibility of constant resurgence.

The response by the government has so far been both rapid and thorough. Fever clinics have been established and Kerala State Health Minister K. K. Shailaja has personally joined the ranks of those coordinating the containment process. Alongside her are a number of doctors present during the original outbreak last year — one that claimed the lives of seventeen people.

A containment procedure is currently in place and all individuals who have been in contact with the infected man have been requested to attend diagnostic services. 86 people are currently under observation.  

At the central level, six medical officers have been dispatched to Kerala by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan assured Shailaja of support from the central government and a control room has been established at the National Centre for Disease Control.

Containment is currently the best option, as no mainstream medication is currently available that is able to cure the Nipah virus. This situation may soon change with the announcement of a potentially effective cure.

Remdesivir, a drug currently being tested against the Ebola virus, was found to protect from a lethal dose of Nipah. In the small-scale trial, scientists gave a lethal dose of Nipah virus to eight African green monkeys. Four of the monkeys were given intravenous remdesivir while the other four monkeys served as a control group, receiving no medication. The four medicated monkeys survived, while the four controls all died within an eight-day period.

Though the trial was small, this demonstrates a current success rate of a hundred percent. Such promising results cannot be ignored. In addition, the medication has also proven effective in treating a number of conditions, including Ebola, Lassa fever, MERS coronavirus, and the respiratory syncytial virus.

“The average person who reaches a hospital dies within two days, so it’s hard to protect them once they’re infected,” said Emmie de Wit, a virologist at the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and lead author of the study in an interview with the New York Times.

Due to the high mortality rate and rapid onset of the Nipah virus, any new tools that may help to treat the condition are a welcome development. India sits on the verge of a potential new outbreak, any new drug that could avert such an outcome gives hope for any future disease cases.

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