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Preventing Nipah virus

Don’t drink raw date sap

Published : 03 Jan 2020 09:01 PM | Updated : 06 Sep 2020 07:46 PM

Nurul Islam Hasib
The government health authorities are warning people against drinking raw date sap that can contain Nipah virus which kills people every year in Bangladesh.
The virus is so infectious that, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), it has killed over 70 percent of the people got infected since 2001 when it first struck in Bangladesh as an 'unknown' disease.
“But it’s (disease) totally preventable. Once infected, chance of recovery is very low since it’s a virus which has no specific treatment,” Dr ASM Alamgir, Principal Scientific Officer of the IEDCR, government’s disease monitoring arm, told Bangladesh Post.
“We just need to know that we cannot drink raw date juice. We are strongly recommending that – don’t drink raw date sap,” he said. “If you want to drink date sap, please boil it properly”.
Date sap or khejur rosh, is a sweet juice extracted from the date palm trees in winter. In rural Bangladesh, it’s synonymous with Bengal winters. Fruit bats that carry the Nipah virus also love to drink the sap. The bats saliva and urine carry the virus.
A study using infrared cameras found that bats perch on the containers put up on trees to collect the sap, and try to drink the juice. They also urinate into the pot.
Half-eaten fruits, particularly boroi, jujube, is also dangerous.
“Because those bats bite fruits which then fall from trees. In the morning children collect those and eat without proper washing. It can pass the virus,” Dr Alamgir said.
It usually takes a week between exposure and showing up the signs and symptoms of the disease that include fever, breathing problem, altered mental status, and seizure, among others.
The Nipah virus was first found in Malaysia in 1998. The virus is named after the Malaysian village where it was first discovered. Later in 1999 it was found in Singapore in pigs imported from Malaysia.
At present it is prevalent in 31 districts of Bangladesh, including Meherpur, Naogaon, Rajbari, Tangail, Faridpur, Manikganj, Rangpur, lalmonirhat, Kushtia, and Thakurgaon districts of central and northwestern region.
December to March is the season of the disease when date sap is usually collected.
The virus is so contagious that it can be passed on with minimal human contact. Many got infected and die while caring patients.
For caregivers, doctors suggest washing hands frequently, not sharing the same food, and remaining at least three feet away from patients while caring for them. Caregivers are also recommended to wear masks.
“The virus can pass from patients to care givers on contact, from patient to health care worker, through objects used by patient and during handling of the deceased,” Dr Alamgir said.
To deal with the issue, he said: “It requires ‘one health’ approach which means concerted effort of all. We need to campaign with a single slogan – don’t drink raw date sap.”