India has reached out to Australia to procure 20 additional doses of monoclonal antibody for the treatment of this viral infection, according to ICMR DG Rajeev Bahl. Given the recurrent outbreaks of Nipah in the southern state and its notably high mortality rate compared to COVID-19, Bahl also revealed that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is considering the initiation of efforts to develop a vaccine for Nipah.
Bahl emphasized that the mortality rate among Nipah-infected individuals is significantly higher, ranging between 40% and 70%, compared to the mortality rate for COVID-19, which is approximately 2-3%.
A fresh case of Nipah virus was confirmed in Kozhikode, bringing the total number of infected individuals in the state to six, with two fatalities reported previously.
Bahl explained that India had received some doses of monoclonal antibody from Australia in 2018, which are currently available for only ten patients. Globally, monoclonal antibody treatment has been administered to 14 Nipah virus patients outside India, all of whom have survived. However, he noted that only phase 1 trials, which establish the safety of the medication, have been conducted. Efficacy trials have not been completed, and the medication can only be provided as compassionate use medicine.
Bahl stated that so far, no one in India has received the monoclonal antibody treatment, but efforts are being made to procure an additional 20 doses. It is crucial to administer the medicine during the early stages of the infection.
Regarding the continued emergence of Nipah cases in Kerala, Bahl mentioned that the exact transmission route from bats to humans remains uncertain, despite earlier findings in 2018 linking the outbreak to bats. Efforts are underway to investigate the transmission mechanism during the current outbreak, which often occurs during the rainy season.
ICMR is also exploring the development of a vaccine for Nipah, leveraging the diverse platforms used for COVID-19 vaccines, including DNA, mRNA, adenoviral vector, protein subunit, and nasal vaccines.
In light of the high mortality rate associated with Nipah, Bahl urged people to take precautions, such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and avoiding raw food potentially exposed to bats. The Mobile BSL 3 Laboratory has been deployed in Kozhikode to enable testing at the district level, and genome sequencing is being conducted by ICMR’s National Institute of Virology to identify the specific Nipah variant in circulation in Kerala.