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India`s Fruit Exports under Threat due to Nipah Virus (NiV)

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

India is the largest producer of bananas (26.04%), papayas (44.51%) and mangoes (40.75%).

According to Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), in 2016-17, India exported fruits worth of Rs 4,448.08 crore, out of which mangoes, walnuts, grapes, bananas and pomegranates accounted for most of it. 

The outbreak of Nipah virus, which has resulted in the death of ten people in Kerala, is also likely to have an adverse impact on India's fruit exports. 

The virus, which is released through bats' saliva, urine and excreta, typically spreads due to bats consuming fruits on trees. 

Specifically, it is the Greater Indian Fruit Bat, found abundantly across South Asia, which carries the Nipah virus. 

The Commerce Ministry has said it is monitoring the outbreak and will asses if the virus will bear implications for the country's fruit exports.  "We are keeping an eye on the developments. If the situation persists, we may have to ask our agencies to do a formal assessment of whether this will hurt India's export potential," according to the official comminique.

Since these bats feed on any fruit they can find, there's a risk of exports of many fruits getting affected.

Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said that India's mangoes export had reached 52,761 tonnes in 2016-17. According to APEDA, the major destinations of India's fruit and vegetable exports are UAE, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Netherland, Sri Lanka, Nepal, UK, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Qatar.

Kerala is on high alert, as six people have died after being infected by Nipah - a kind of virus that is transmitted from animals to humans. 

Body fluid samples of seven others who died (in Kozhikode (Calicut) and Malappuram districts) have been sent for tests. 

Earlier, two out of three deceased members of the same family tested positive for the virus.

A nurse who treated the victims also died on Sunday after showing similar symptoms. 

State Health Minister KK Shailaja who rushed to Kozhikode on Sunday night will be camping in the region till the situation is in under control. Speaking to the media after a high level meeting with health officials, Shailaja said that the state is ready to meet any emergency situation.

We have discussed the issue with the Central Government and they have assured assistance. Manipal Institute of Virology has also extended its help. An expert team is already here and they have inspected the region where the disease has been reported. We have noticed that bats are the carriers of the virus. We have asked people not to consume fruits or vegetables which could be contaminated," the Minister said. 

The state health department has also assured necessary assistance to the patients. An isolation ward will be opened at the Government Medical College, Kozhikode. Doctors and nurses have been directed to wear face masks and gloves while attending to patients. Private hospitals have been informed that the treatment expenses of Nipah virus patients will be barred by the state government.

Bats: The Primary Virus Carrier 

Fruit bats have been identified as the primary carriers of Nipah virus. The virus is usually transferred through fluids from the bat. This happens when humans consume fruits or vegetables which are bitten by infected bats. 

Another possibility is that the virus could been transferred to pet animals like cats or dogs who are in direct contact with humans. 

Union Health Minister JP Nadda  directed the director of National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to visit Kerala's Kozhikode district to assist the state government in the wake of the death of three people due to Nipah virus.

A central team will be visiting the state to monitor the situation post the Union health minister's direction. 

"Reviewed the situation of deaths related to Nipah virus in Kerala with Secreatry Health. I have directed director NCDC to visit the district and initiate required steps as warranted by the protocol for the disease in consultation with state government," Nadda said in a tweet.

Nipah virus infection in humans has a "range of clinical presentations, from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory syndrome and fatal encephalitis," according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Lok Sabha MP and former Union minister Mullappally Ramachandran sought the Central Government's intervention to contain the outbreak of what he termed was a "rare and deadly" virus in some parts of Kozhikode.

He said some doctors have termed it as Nipah virus, while others said it was zoonotic, that is, a disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human.

Nipah virus is also capable of infecting pigs and other domestic animals. "There is no vaccine for either humans or animals. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care", the WHO says on its website. 

The deaths in Kerala is the third instance in India's history of a Nipah virus outbreak, the first two times being in West Bengal's Siliguri in 2001 and Nadia in 2007. This time around, the outbreak has been detected in the Southern state, where the first victims were three members of a family in Kozhikode, followed by a nurse who took care of the infected. 

At least three people have died due to a deadly virus Nipah in northern Kerala. The outbreak was identified after three members of a family who were tested positive for the virus, including two youths in their 20s, died while undergoing treatment at the hospital. Their father, who is also infected, has been put under observation in the hospital. The entire state has been on high alert as eight others have also been hospitalized for showing similar infection-related symptoms. Basic symptoms of the Nipah virus are fever, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, choking, stomach pain, and fatigue. A person infected with the Nipah Virus can go in coma. 

Nipah virus (NiV) infection is a newly emerging zoonosis, a disease which can be transmitted to humans from animals, that causes severe disease in both animals and humans. The natural hosts of the Nipah virus are fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family, Pteropus genus. 

Kerala health minister KK Shylaja said a bat was found in the well of the house where the deaths occurred, and that the house has now been closed. A nursing assistant, Lini, who had treated these three patients, also died. However, it is yet to be established if she died of virus infection from bats or due to some other reasons. 

Total 15 deaths have been reported due to the symptoms related to the virus in several districts of the state. A high-level team from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is analyzing the overall situation in Kozhikode, which is the most affected. The authorities have said there's no need to panic as the Nipah virus spreads only through direct contact with an infected person. 

What is Nipah Virus (NiV) 

According to the World Health Organization, the virus was named after the Malaysian village, Kampung Sungai Nipah, where it was first identified during an outbreak of the disease in 1998. During that time, pigs were the intermediate hosts of the virus. However, in subsequent NiV outbreaks, there were no intermediate hosts. In Bangladesh in 2004, humans were infected with NiV as a result of consuming date palm sap that had been contaminated by infected fruit bats. Human-to-human transmission has also been documented in India. NiV also causes diseases in pigs and other animals. So far, there is no vaccine for either humans or animals. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care.

Causes of Nipah Virus 

Fruit bats of the genus Pteropus have been identified as natural reservoirs of NiV.

Nipah virus has been isolated from the brain and spinal fluid of victims in Malaysia.

Infective virus has also been isolated from bat urine and partially-eaten fruit in Malaysia.

How Nipah Virus is Transmitted 

Infected bats shed virus in their excretion and secretion such as saliva, urine, semen and excreta but they are symptomless carriers.

The NiV is highly contagious among pigs, spread by coughing. Ninety per cent of the infected people in the 1998-1999 outbreaks were pig farmers or had contact with pigs.

WHO says emergence of bat-related viral infection communicable to humans and animals has been attributed to the loss of natural habitats of bats. As the flying fox habitat is destroyed by human activity the bats get stressed and hungry, their immune system gets weaker, their virus load goes up and a lot of virus spills out in their urine and saliva.

How to prevent Nipah Virus 

There is no effective treatment for Nipah virus disease, but ribavarin may alleviate the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and convulsions.

Treatment is mostly focused on managing fever and the neurological symptoms.

Severely ill individuals need to be hospitalized and may require the use of a ventilator.

Prevent infected persons from coming in contact with others as human-to-human transmission of NiV has been reported in recent outbreaks.

Healthcare workers caring for patients with suspected or confirmed NiV should implement standard precautions. 

While medical professionals are in a rush to contain the virus, it must be noted that there's no cure as of now and the virus is contagious with 75%-100% fatality rate. The symptoms are almost identical to influenza, including fever and muscle ache and in some cases patients have brain inflammation as well. 

In 1998, when the virus was discovered in the Malaysian village of Nipah, it claimed 105 lives. That time, the first infected were pigs that got the virus from fruit bats before transmitting it to pig farmers. According to the World Health Organization, the fruit bat is the natural host of the virus and often do not display any 

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