10 things to know about Nipah, 'worst disease no one has ever heard of'

Virus has been making headlines in India

By Michelle Ganley - Graham Media Group

A nurse died earlier this week after taking care of sick patients and then becoming ill herself with the Nipah virus, which has killed at least 10 people in India this month.

“I think I am almost on my way,” Lini Puthusheri wrote to her husband in a mix of English and Malayalam, the main language in Kerala, a southern state in India. “I may not be able to see you again. Sorry. Take care of our children.”

She signed the note, “Lots of love," according to the Associated Press.

So what is the Nipah virus, which one doctor told NBC News was “the worst disease no one has ever heard of”?

Here are 10 things to know.

-- In addition to the fatalities, two people infected with the virus are in critical condition. Nipah is known to cause raging fevers, headaches, convulsions, drowsiness, confusion and vomiting -- and it kills up to 75 percent of people who come down with it.

-- There is no vaccine for the virus. The only way to treat it is to keep patients comfortable. It usually takes about five to 14 days for symptoms to show up. In some cases, they can lead to a coma.

-- Nipah can be passed by fruit bats, pigs and through human-to-human contact. Officials believe the outbreak in India might have started with bats.

-- It sits on the priority disease watchlist of the World Health Organization. “Experts consider that given (these diseases’) potential to cause a public health emergency and the absence of efficacious drugs and/or vaccines, there is an urgent need for accelerated research and development,” it says on the WHO website.

-- Nipah is known to cause encephalitis, a brain inflammation that can be deadly. People who survive often live with long-term disabilities and personality changes. In some outbreaks, the virus also has led to severe respiratory infections. 

-- The virus, in some cases, can remain in the body for months -- and even years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Nipah is not currently in the United States. Right now, the virus has only been seen in remote, international areas. But bigger cities aren’t far away, and the NBC News report said that any virus is just a flight away from anywhere in the world. Outbreaks in Bangladesh, for example, are only an hour or so from Dhaka, and the Dhaka airport connects people to cities such as New Delhi and London.

-- Officials in Kerala insist that the situation is under control, but at least eight people who have had contact with those infected by Nipah are being kept in isolation. 

-- Some ambulance drivers wouldn’t take the body of the nurse in India to be cremated, the AP reported, citing The Hindu, a newspaper. “A few drivers did not want to carry the body to the crematorium even though we told them that they would not have to touch it,” a relative reportedly said. Eventually, police helped transport the body.

-- Nipah was first identified in 1999 when pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore became very sick, according to Time magazine. During that outbreak, nearly 300 people were infected, and more than 100 people died. To stop the outbreak, authorities had to euthanize more than 1 million pigs.

Graham Media Group + Associated Press