What is Nipah Virus?

Nipah virus (NiV) was first discovered in 1999 following an outbreak of disease in pigs and people in Malaysia and Singapore. This outbreak resulted in nearly 300 human cases and more than 100 deaths, and caused substantial economic impact as more than 1 million pigs were killed to help control the outbreak.

While there have been no other known outbreaks of NiV in Malaysia and Singapore since 1999, outbreaks have been recorded almost annually in some parts of Asia since then—primarily in Bangladesh and India. The virus has been shown to spread from person-to-person in these outbreaks, raising concerns about the potential for NiV to cause a global pandemic.

NiV is a member of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus. It is a zoonotic virus, meaning that it initially spreads between animals and people. The animal host reservoir for NiV is the fruit bat (genus Pteropus), also known as the flying fox. Given that NiV is genetically related to Hendra virus, another henipavirus known to be carried by bats, bat species were quickly singled out for investigation and flying foxes were subsequently identified as the reservoir.

Infected fruit bats can spread the disease to people or other animals, such as pigs. People can become infected if they have close contact with an infected animal or its body fluids (such as saliva or urine)—this initial spread from an animal to a person is known as a spillover event. Once it spreads to people, person-to-person spread of NiV can also occur.

The symptoms of NiV infection range from mild to severe, with death occurring in 40%–70% of those infected in documented outbreaks between 1998 and 2018.