Scientists Suggest Studying Impact of Exotic Fruits Amid Nipah Virus Outbreak in India
14:40 GMT 13.09.2021 (Updated: 12:25 GMT 14.02.2023)
Nipah virus, a zoonotic virus like SARS-COV2, was first reported in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia. Last month, there was one death reported in the Indian state of Kerala due to the infection. As the authorities are conducting massive contact tracing in Kerala, states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are also on high alert.
Indian scientists have recommended studies into the ecological impact of exotic fruits amid a Nipah outbreak in the southern state of Kerala - a virus that can be transmitted to humans from animals. This is the third outbreak of Nipah in the southern state since 2018, when 17 lives were lost.
Last week, a 12-year-old died in Kozhikode after being infected with Nipah. After the boy's mother revealed that she had given him Rambutan the fruits were sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune for investigation.
Sooraj N.P., a researcher at the C.V. Raman Laboratory of Ecological Informatics, DUK, stressed the need to check whether the abundance of exotic fruiting plants attracted fruit bats or caused the increased presence of the bat population in human-inhabited areas, as reported by The Hindu.
Although the fruit's role is still not clear, the situation has affected the sale of exotic fruit as it is witnessing a price drop of 30-35 percent.
According to experts, the import of exotic plants is regulated under the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) Order, 2003, but there is no mechanism to track the long-term ecological impact of the large-scale cultivation of exotic plants like Rambutan.
Ecological physicist R. Jaishanker, chair of the School of Informatics, Digital University of Kerala (DUK) told The Hindu while recommending studies on exotic fruits that there is still a lack of analysis of finding the cause of the Nipah virus.
7 September 2021, 01:30 GMT
"There is a need to investigate various aspects such as the fruit's interaction with native species, influence on biotic assemblage of the introduced ecosystem that involves plant-pollinator interactions, and alterations in the food web remain overlooked. Imported plants bypassed the naturalisation process that normally happens over many years,” Prof. Jaishanker said as quoted by The Hindu.
The two strains of Nipah Virus that have been reported till now are assumed to have pigs and fruit bats as intermediary hosts.
According to scientists, although efforts are being made to contain zoonotic diseases, there is still a lack of analysis in finding the cause.
In 2018, after the Nipah outbreak, several studies showed that the virus was first transmitted from fruit bats. However, the route of the transmission remained unknown.
Nipah vs Coronavirus
According to experts, Nipah is not as transmissible as some other viruses. However, the risk of a new strain with more efficiency and virulence cannot be ignored.
Unfortunately, the virus also has a high fatality rate. After being infected with COVID-19, the patient is most infectious before symptoms are visible. In the case of Nipah, the patient starts spreading the virus after becoming symptomatic.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), between 40 percent and 75 percent of Nipah virus cases can lead to death. In 2018, during Kerala's first Nipah outbreak, the fatality rate was over 90 percent.
On Sunday, Veena George, Health Minister of Kerala state, told reporters that samples of all 68 close contacts of the boy who died due to Nipah last week came out negative, however, the source was yet to be identified. George also stated that sample testing is underway to find the epicentre of the infection.