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What Is The Nipah Virus And Should We Be Worried?

Dr. Vityala Yethindra is the world’s youngest scientist in medicine has answered the most commonly asked questions about Nipah virus (NiV) infection.

NiV infection is an emerging zoonosis that can cause severe acute respiratory disease and lethal encephalitis, for which there is currently no specific treatment or vaccines for humans or animals. NiV is one of the 10 infectious diseases of the 16 identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the greatest risk to public health because it has a high mortality rate (40% to 75%) depending on the origin of the outbreak.

Fruit bats, pteropus are one of the transmitters of the disease by contaminating fruit.

What Do We Know?

The NIV was first detected in 1998 in Malaysia during an outbreak of the disease. According to the WHO in the first discovery, the intermediate host was the pig. Pteropus, one of the genera of fruit bats can transmit the virus through fruits. In 2004, an outbreak in Bangladesh, infected people contracted this virus after consuming date palm sap contaminated by infected fruit bats.

What Are The Symptoms?

Symptoms of a NiV infection are similar to those associated with the common flu and influenza, including fever, sore throat, headache, and muscle pain. In some cases, the infected person can suffer from encephalitis and myocarditis (inflammation of the brain and heart muscle) which can cause permanent disability, or be fatal. Symptoms begin 5 to 14 days after exposure.

How Is It Transmitted?

The NIV can be transmitted from animals to humans. The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected pigs, bats, or other people. Through direct unprotected contact with infected body fluids, there are person-to-person transmitted cases.

How Can It Be Diagnosed?

Serological tests of paired sera during the acute and convalescent stages can be used for diagnosis.  RT-PCR of the throat and nasal swabs, blood, urine, and CSF can also be performed.  Immunohistochemistry of brain tissue can be performed in fatal cases.

How Is It Treated?

Currently, no drugs are effective in treating NiV infection. Early treatment with the antiviral drug ribavirin can reduce the duration of fever and the severity of the illness. However, the safety and efficacy of drugs for improvement in survival are still unknown.

Are Vaccines Available?

Even though there is a safe and effective vaccine against NiV in mice, but it’s important to focus on testing the vaccine in different species and establishing the right dose to administer. Moreover, it may take time to get the vaccine approved against the NIV.

What Are The Countries Currently Affected?

Besides outbreaks in Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, and India, the NiV has reported affecting bats in countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Thailand, and Timor-Leste. Of 11 different Nipah outbreaks were identified in Bangladesh from 2001- 2011, 196 were diagnosed and 150 of them died.

How Can I Protect Myself (And Others) From The NIV?

The people living in areas prone to contracting the NiV should change their habits and lifestyle, especially those who live in areas with a high prevalence of fruit bats. Care should be taken during consuming fruit and already bitten fruit should be avoided.

It’s necessary to manage the infected pigs, by isolating and people dealing with them should use personal protective equipment for effective prevention.

In the case of travelers, it’s important to follow preventive measures every time. They should maintain hygiene by washing hands often, avoiding contact with sick people, bats, and other animals, and by taking safe food and beverages. Hospitals should be visited if there is a requirement for medical attention.

The NIV is another emerging infectious disease of great concern,” Dr. Yethindra said. He further said, “NiV can explode at any moment and the next pandemic can be a drug-resistant infection.

There is a need for a universally accepted comprehensive strategy and preparedness plan that enables rapid activation of research and development activities during epidemics. Accelerating the availability of effective tests, drugs and vaccines can save lives and prevent large-scale crises.

Feature image is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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