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Nipah virus infected 600 in 17 years, coronavirus hit 100 million in 1 year: WHO data

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Recently circulated reports have suggested that the Nipah virus has the potential to become the next global pandemic. However, data by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that Nipah reportedly infected only 600 people in 17 years.

The Nipah virus, which was first identified in an outbreak in Malaysia in 1998, infected approximately 600 people between 1998 and 2015, according to WHO.

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Meanwhile, the coronavirus infected over 100 million people worldwide in a year's time. Health officials warn the number of confirmed cases is only a fraction of the real number of infections around the world.

The WHO organization defines a pandemic as "an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people."

Nipah, a zoonotic virus - transmitted from animals to humans, causes a range of illnesses from asymptomatic infection to acute respiratory illness and fatal encephalitis, according to WHO. The major outbreaks were due to transmission from bats and pigs.

The WHO has said in 2018 Nipah was a public health concern because it infected a wide range of animals and caused severe disease and death in people. However, "Nipah virus has caused only a few known outbreaks in Asia," it added.

Countries which have been affected by Nipah in the past include: Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and India. Other countries, WHO identifies as "maybe at risk for infection" include: Cambodia, Ghana, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

"Infected people initially develop symptoms including fever, headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), vomiting and sore throat. This can be followed by dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness, and neurological signs that indicate acute encephalitis," the WHO said in a report.

"The case fatality rate is estimated at 40 percent to 75 percent. This rate can vary by outbreak depending on local capabilities for epidemiological surveillance and clinical management," it added.

WHO does rank Nipah as one of its priority diseases for research and development in public health emergency contexts. The WHO's list prioritizes diseases which "pose the greatest public health risk due to their epidemic potential and/or whether there is no or insufficient countermeasures." But the list is not exhaustive and "does not indicate the most likely causes of the next epidemic."

An NGO funded by UK and Dutch governments, Access to Medicine Foundation, highlighted in a January 26 report that there were no medicines or vaccines in the pipeline for Nipah, which it described as posing a "pandemic risk."

The executive director of the NGO, Jayasree K Iyer, was quoted by The Guardian as saying: "Nipah could blow any moment. The next pandemic could be a drug-resistant infection."

On Sunday, a Jordanian infectious diseases consultant said there was no need to panic over Nipah. "Nipah does not live up to the ferocity of the coronavirus," Roya News quoted Dirar Balawi as saying.

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Read more:

A new pandemic? Here’s what happened the last time Nipah virus spread

Nipah virus in China with up to 75 pct fatality rate could be next pandemic: Report

Nipah virus: How is it transmitted and what are the symptoms