When the Nipah virus outbreak first occurred in May 2018, no one was prepared to tackle the disease about which there was little information. However, since 2018, efforts have been undertaken to develop a drug against Nipah. In a study jointly done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), scientists claim that an antiviral drug which was developed against the Ebola virus may also be effective against Nipah. The antiviral drug is yet to be accepted by the scientific community as potential treatment for the Nipah virus.
The drug is currently being subject to trials in the Democratic Republic of Congo for Ebola. In a new trial, eight African green monkeys were exposed to lethal doses of the Nipah virus, after which four of them received the antiviral drug intravenously. The four monkeys which received the drug survived and the four which did not receive the drug reportedly died within eight days. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine magazine.
This is not the first time that scientists have looked to an experimental drug. During the 2018 outbreak in Kerala, officials had flown in monoclonal antibodies from Australia which, in trials, was found to have an effect against the virus.
“Monoclonal antibodies work by triggering the body’s own immune system to attack the virus. They are ‘programmed’ to act upon certain cells, in this case, they can be made to attack the Nipah virus itself, and in this manner, the overall viral load of the virus in the body decreases, which makes it easier for us to step in and do any further supportive care,” explains Dr Boby Varkey Maramattom, leading consultant neurologist at Aster Medcity Hospital in Kochi.
On June 4, Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja made the announcement that a 23-year-old man from Ernakulam who had been admitted to a hospital after suspicions of having contracted Nipah tested positive for the virus. Dr Boby was one of the doctors who oversaw the treatment of this patient.
Following this, officials across the state quickly sprung into action to help contain the spread of the virus, increase public awareness measures, and most importantly, trace people who may have come in contact with ‘patient zero’.
Hospitals were stocked with ribavirin, an antiviral drug used to treat certain viral fevers, protective gear (such as masks) and screening was set up in most hospitals at the district level. In addition, a helpline number was set up where people could call and ask any question about Nipah. A protocol for suspected cases was also set up.