A threat of a new global pandemic is underway in the form of the Nipah virus, an illness that has killed half of the people it’s infected.
The Nipah virus infection is a zoonotic illness that is transmitted to people from animals and can also be transmitted through contaminated food or directly from person to person. In infected people, it causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic (subclinical) infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis, according to the World Health Organization.
It is also on the list of the Top 10 priority diseases by the agency.
Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who helped develop Astrazeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, was speaking during an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and warned attendees about the Nipah virus, which kills half of the people it infects.
She said that if the virus mutates to become more infectious is could quickly spread around the globe, killing countless people.
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“Something everybody is very much aware of now is how as SARS-CoV-2 has spread through the world,” Gilbert said, according to The Sun. “It’s mutated, it’s evolved, and what we’ve ended up with is the Delta variant which is very highly transmissible.”
“If we get a Delta variant [evolved to be more transmissible] of Nipah virus, then suddenly we’ve got a highly transmissible virus with a 50 percent fatality rate.”
Unlike coronavirus which kills up to one percent of the people it infects, according to FullFact, Nipah has a death rate of 50 percent. The virus has resulted in several outbreaks around the world, including one in 2018 in the southern Indian state of Kerala.
That outbreak sickened 19 people, killing 17 of them. The virus has since reappeared in the region, but thanks to swift isolation protocols, authorities have managed to keep the virus contained.
There are currently no known treatments for the Nipah virus, though Gilbert said she spent five years trying to create a vaccine.
Dr. Gilbert said that governments across the world should develop and stockpile vaccines so they are prepared if a pandemic breaks out.
“Health workers and people in other key roles should also be pre-vaccinated so they are ready to respond and do not play a part in spreading the virus,” she said. “We’ve known about that for years, and we started making a vaccine five years ago, but we haven’t done it yet. It’s not finished.”
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