A group of scientists discovered the full genome sequence of Nipah virus, isolated from the Pteropus Medius bat samples taken from Bangladesh from January 2011 to April 2014.
The discovery also helped the 15 scientists, including three from International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), to learn about the bat’s procreation and activity in Bangladesh.
The three icddr,b scientists are Ashraful Islam, MZ Rahman and Emily S Gurley.
They hoped this discovery would help prevent the spread of the Nipah virus infection and enable creating its vaccine.
The scientists published an article, “Isolation and Full-Genome Characterisation of Nipah Viruses from Bats, Bangladesh” in US science journal Emerging Infectious Diseases on 1 January.
The researchers are from icddr,b, Singapore Medical School, EcoHealth Alliance in New York, Australian Animal Health Laboratory, University of Guelph in Canada, Stanford University in USA and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) considered the infection as a global health priority and has pandemic potential because of its human-to-human transmissibility, wide geographic distribution of bat reservoir species, high case-fatality rate in humans, and lack of available vaccine or therapeutic agents.
No vaccine has so far been invented for the disease. Among the infected, 40-75 per cent die, WHO says.
Saif Ullah Munshi, professor of virology department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) considered the discovery as an important step to invent the vaccine of the virus.
“Bats spread the virus while drinking date juice. The disease can spread if people drink that juice. The same can happen if people take fruits eaten by bats,” he told Prothom Alo.
Saif Ullah Munshi advised people to drink date juice after boiling it.
The virus was first detected in Bangladesh in 2011.
According to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) of Bangladesh, 303 people were infected in the past 18 years. Among them, 70 per cent died. The survivors suffer from various nervous system complexities.
The disease is recurrently infecting people of neighbouring west Bengal in India. Seventeen victims out of 19 died in Kerala of India, 1800 kilometres west of West Bengal.
The researchers say the Pteropus Medius species of bat is the main carrier of Nipah virus in this region of Bangladesh and India.
Until now, the infection was identified through polymer-age chain reaction but the scientists could not discover the genome sequencing of the live virus except two instances in Malaysia and Cambodia.
The virus was first identified in Sungai Nipah village in 1999 and named after the place. Among the 300 infected, over 100 people died there that year. The virus spread among men through pigs.
The Pteropus Medius bats, also known as flying Indian Fox, lives in the Indian subcontinent, Australia, East Africa and Pacific Ocean regions.
Ashraful Islam told Prothom Alo, “Pteropus Medius bats are the natural carriers of Nipah virus in Bangladesh. The discovery of the genome sequencing has paved way to the invention of its vaccine. The primary work has already begun.”
The researchers collected samples of urine and saliva of the bats from 2,749 spots of the country from January 2011 to April 2014 during the times the disease spread most, between January and April.
The samples were analysed at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory. The researchers identified 10 types of Nipah virus from the samples. Their genetic traits resemble around 99.9 per cent.
The genetic traits of the virus resemble with those collected from the bats of other places as well. For example, the genetic sequence of the virus of bats from Sylhet and Lakshmipur are almost similar. The distance between the two districts is around 300 kilometres.
Professor Haseena Khan at Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department of Dhaka University thinks the continuity of research is very important to create a vaccine of the virus. “The government has to be pro-active in this regard.”
*The report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza