Nipah amidst a pandemic

Quick development of vaccines for tropical infections is a success of the coronavirus era

Explained | Nipah, a highly pathogenic paramyxovirus

There are now established protocols — at the national level — for the three key aspects of a potential pandemic: infection control, treatment and vaccination. When a contagion hits, the world now understands what can and cannot be controlled within each geographic region’s context. It is these lessons from the coronavirus pandemic that must inform future outbreaks. It had become routine for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, at intervals, to report outbreaks of ‘mystery fevers’, when they were often easily diagnosable infections that were just a competent, accessible laboratory test away. Thus, while there is no knowing if the latest Nipah outbreak in India will peter out like in 2019 or be worse than in 2018, India must be heartened that the potential of an outbreak evokes national concern and an anticipatory response unlike the earlier and purely reactive approach. A standardised treatment for Nipah continues to be elusive and a spike in cases could spell disaster given the high mortality rate. However, some studies suggest that vaccines developed for the coronavirus, if adequately tweaked, may prove effective against the Nipah virus too. Another potential candidate vaccine is in early human trials. Because vaccination continues to be the best bet against the disease, the very fact that global attention and capital no longer need to be coaxed to developing vaccines for tropical infections is itself a key difference in how the world approaches outbreaks in the coronavirus era.

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