Nipah spreading across northern region

The highly fatal Nipah virus is spreading across the northern region after infecting 24 people at Hatibandha in Lalmonirhat district where it seemed to be petering out.

Director General (DG) for health Dr Khandaker Mohammad Shefayetullah said there were no fresh cases at Hatiabandha in the last couple of days.

“But four people from different parts of the region have been admitted to Rangpur Medical College Hospital with symptoms similar to nipah infection,” he told on Monday. The DG is now visiting the northern division.

Based on symptoms, he said, doctors assumed that they might have been infected with nipah virus. They are being treated in isolation.

“But only lab test can confirm the virus.”

The DG said they were working on allaying fears of the local people. “They deserted their homes in panic and we’re trying to restore their confidence.”

Experts say only awareness can combat the nipah virus, which appears with symptoms of fever, altered mental status and seizure. The fatal virus has at least 75 percent mortality rate in Bangladesh.

Bats that carry Nipah pass the virus into sap through saliva and droppings. People get the virus while drinking raw sap.

The outbreak of the virus was first detected a week ago in Hatibandha. IEDCR lab reports confirmed the virus Nipah on Friday. So far, 17 people died out of 24 infected.

Doctors and paramedics are treating those infected while scientists are keeping an eye on those who came in contact with the infected people.

“It (Nipah) can pass from person to person,” said Dr M Mushtuq Husain, senior scientist of Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), who is leading the field team.

“We must observe them for the next two weeks (until incubation period is over),” he said, adding that so far no such (person to person) infection occurred.

Husain said they were not getting fresh cases as people stopped drinking raw date sap. “But we are training the Upazila doctors and paramedics to set up a perfect isolation unit even at Upazila level,” he said.

Since its first outbreak in 2001 in Meherpur, the virus has so far killed 130 people out of 176 affected, including the recent deaths.

Nipah generally spreads between December and April, the period when people collect juice from date tree.

IEDCR suggests nursing patients carefully. “Those who take care of patients should wash their hands with soap and use mask to protect themselves,” said Prof Mahmudur Rahman, director of the institute that oversees disease outbreaks.

“Patient’s cough and spit should be collected in a pot so that it can be buried,” he said.

He advised people to avoid drinking raw date or palm juice as well as not to eat bat-bitten fruits.

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