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Catholic nurses battle to stop deadly virus

Diocese develops measures to combat outbreak of bat-carried Nipah in remote district

Large fruit bats are a suspected carrier of Nipah virus outbreak in Bangladesh (photo: www.wunderground.com) Large fruit bats are a suspected carrier of Nipah virus outbreak in Bangladesh (photo: www.wunderground.com)
  • Liton Leo Das, Rajshahi and ucanews.com staff, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • March 21, 2011
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Catholic health workers have launched a battle against an outbreak of encephalitis spread by the deadly Nipah virus, which is threatening people in the diocese of Rajshahi in northwestern Bangladesh.

In a bid to contain the disease, the episcopal and diocesan commissions for healthcare held a joint workshop for around 64 nurses and medical volunteers to explain the crisis.

Encephalitis is acute inflammation of the brain, usually stemming from a viral infection and caused when the body’s immune system attacks brain tissue by mistake.

Symptoms include headache, fever, confusion, drowsiness, and fatigue. More advanced and serious symptoms include seizures or convulsions, hallucinations, memory problems, and even a coma.

One major cause of the disease in Bangladesh is the Nipah virus whose natural host is fruit bats of the pteropus genus. Humans can be infected by drinking raw date sap and fruit bitten by the bats or birds.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) half the reported cases of the Nipah virus in humans in Bangladesh between 2001, when the disease first appeared in the country, and 2008 were human-to-human transmissions. The disease is at its most acute from December until May when people usually collect palm date sap.

Up to February of this year there were a total of 176 human cases of Nipah viral infections. Of that number 130 (74%) died.

The virus first appeared in Malaysia in 1999.

Two research institutes, the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research and the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research, Bangladesh have set up labs and surveillance systems in various districts to diagnose and treat Nipah-patients.

Through schemes such as the Church workshop they are also promoting awareness among people not to drink raw date sap and or eat fruit in areas with infections. They are also instructing health workers to make sure people wash their hands with soap and use masks to protect themselves from human-to-human infections.

“This training was important for our health workers so they know how to combat this deadly disease and raise public awareness,” episcopal healthcare committee secretary Father Francesco Rapacioli from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions said after the workshop.

Benedict Hasdak, 40, a tribal Santal Catholic and medical volunteer said, “We often face new diseases and are not fully aware about what to do to prevent outbreaks. I think the workshop training will be very useful for us.”

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