If a South Asian disease that’s commonly associated with fruit bats and pig farms doesn't top your list of things to think about today, you may want to read this story in the current issue of Inside Stanford Medicine. The piece focuses on Nipah virus - a disease that has no known treatment or vaccine - and discusses a recent commentary on it from Steve Luby, MD, director of research for Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health. In his piece, Luby explains how global travel can spread diseases and lists some of the reasons why diseases that affect low-income countries should be of global concern.
From the Inside Stanford Medicine article:
Discovered in 1999, Nipah can be traced to Pteropus bats, commonly known as fruit bats, which carry the virus but are immune to it. In Bangladesh, these bats transmit the virus to humans through raw date palm sap, which the bats are known to lick and urinate in as it is harvested for human consumption. Children love the treat with puffed rice in the morning.
Sustained person-to-person transmission of Nipah through contact with bodily secretions has been limited so far. Still, there is significant cause for concern that Nipah could spread faster and wider. Fruit bats can be found over a range stretching from Pakistan across South and Southeast Asia, up the coast of Southern China and down into Australia. Climate change and other environmental factors could expand the bats' range.
Rich countries need to help improve poor countries' health-care systems — specifically, making sure health-care workers have access to protection such as gloves and hand washing — to help prevent spread, Luby said. In densely populated Bangladesh, health-care providers who treat Nipah patients typically lack gloves and masks, while patient attendants often lack soap and water for hand washing.
Beyond stopping the spread of Nipah, such measures would reduce the risk of influenza and other disease pandemics, according to Luby. "I think it's important that taxpayers in the U.S. recognize that investments in prevention in low-income, high-risk countries can protect their own lives."
Luby's commentary appears in the journal Antiviral Research.
Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.
Previously: H7N9 got you aflutter? Wired offers help sorting fact from fiction, Closing the net on malaria, What I did this summer: Stanford medical student works to improve pediatric surgical care in Tanzania, Improving treatment for infant respiratory distress in developing countries, WHO’s math may not add up for developing nations and Stanford pump project makes clean water no longer a pipe dream
Photo of fruit bat by Anton Croos