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20 years since discovery, still no drugs to fight Nipah, scientists warn of potential epidemic

Since its discovery in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999, a number of deadly Nipah outbreaks have occurred in South and Southeast Asian countries. In Kerala, 16 of the 18 infected had died.

Published: 09th December 2019 04:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 09th December 2019 05:18 PM   |  A+A-

Nipah conference held in Singapore in collaboration with CEPI and Duke Medical School.

Nipah conference held in Singapore in collaboration with CEPI and Duke Medical School. (Photo | Twitter)

By Online Desk

Nipah, the life-threatening virus that sent shockwaves across Kerala in 2018, has "serious epidemic potential", international health professionals reiterated on Monday. 

On the 20th anniversary of its discovery, Richard Hatchett, chief executive of CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) which is co-hosting a conference on Nipah in Singapore, said the world is still not equipped to tackle the global threat posed by the virus, according to a Reuters report.

Since first being identified in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999, a number of deadly Nipah outbreaks have occurred in South and Southeast Asian countries. 

In Kerala, 16 of the 18 infected had died. There was also an outbreak in Siliguri in West Bengal in 2001, which killed 45. Till 2018, up to 200 people have reportedly lost their lives to the deadly infection. 

ALSO READ: Kerala urged to develop anti-Nipah virus mechanism

"Outbreaks of Nipah virus have so far been confined to South and Southeast Asia, but the virus has serious epidemic potential, because Pteropus fruit bats that carry the virus are found throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, which are home to more than two billion people," Hatchett said. 

In light of its epidemic potential and with no vaccines or treatments currently available, the zoonotic disease is listed on the WHO’s R+D Blueprint as a priority pathogen in need of urgent action.

A Duke NUS professor who co-chaired the conference, Wang Linfa, said, "There are currently no specific drugs or vaccines for Nipah virus infection, even though the World Health Organization has identified (it) as a priority disease." 

During the conference, health experts focused on taking prudent actions guided both by probability and impact. 

"We buckle up our seatbelts in the car, so why don’t we buckle up for a potential Nipah pandemic?," asked Stanford Professor of Medicine (Infectious Diseases) Stephen Luby.

The two-day conference on December 9-10 is a joint collaborative effort of CEPI and Duke Medical School to review the historic outbreaks, discuss the latest developments in diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics, and foster greater international collaboration.

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