Warning over raw date juice after Nipah death

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People have been urged not to consume raw date juice in Bangladesh amid concerns the popular drink is spreading Nipah virus, a deadly disease that has killed more than 70 per cent of people infected in the last 20 years. 

Since the pathogen was first detected in Bangladesh in 2001, the country has faced almost yearly flare ups. But with no approved vaccines or treatments, the survival rate is grim: according to a new  report from the country’s Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), 231 of the 330 known cases have died. 

The analysis comes after Bangladesh reported its first Nipah fatality of the year last week, when a 35-year-old woman in the western city of Rajshah died. It is believed she contracted the virus after drinking raw date juice that was contaminated by the urine or saliva of infected fruit bats.

Prof Tahmina Shirin, director of the IEDCR, said this was a common pattern. The latest analysis found that at least 139 of the known cases contracted the virus after consuming the raw juice – a popular drink, especially in winter. 

“So far, we know that it has around 71 per cent fatality rate and raw date juice is the main source of contracting it. So, we must refrain from consuming it,” Prof Shirin said, adding that roughly 50 people had picked up the infectious pathogen from another person. 

Priority pathogen

Nipah virus – listed by the World Health Organization’s as a priority pathogens with potential to develop into an epidemic – can rapidly attack the respiratory and central nervous systems, and often leads to fatal encephalitis. It was first identified in Malaysia in 1999, but predominantly spreads in Bangladesh and parts of India. 

While there are currently no known vaccines, at least eight groups are working on developing shots to mitigate the virus. 

Last March, a team at the University of Texas unveiled data showing their candidate provided 100 per cent protection in African green monkeys, just seven days after they were first immunised.   

Meanwhile, the University of Oxford team behind the AstraZeneca Covid shot is working to adapt its ChAdOx1 technology to Nipah. 

In a paper published in Nature in December, no African green monkeys inoculated showed signs of disease – and in all but one swab, no virus was detected. This suggests vaccination “induced a very robust protective immune response”, the team said, though more trials are needed to confirm the findings.

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