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Tackling Nipah with dietary guidelines

6 min read

The surge in the Nipah virus is keeping the health departments of various states on tenterhooks.  The reports of Nipah-like symptoms in various south Indian states are giving jitters to not only to the common people but also to the health authorities.  Although the last reported case came to light about a week ago, various state governments have issued advisories regarding caution that needs to be exercised while consuming fruits.

People now are in a quandary whether or not to consume fruits and vegetables, which we as nutrition researchers often propagate as the powerhouses of the essential micronutrients, fibre, antioxidants and others.  In fact, if we understand about the infection and how its spread can be curtailed, we will soon realise that simple dietary guidelines our Institute has been propagating can go a long way in preventing the spread of Nipah.

What's already known about Nipah?

Now it has almost become common knowledge that Nipah virus is a zoonotic infection (transmitted from animals to humans) which causes a range of symptoms from acute respiratory illness to fatal encephalitis. It presents with fever, headache and drowsiness followed by disorientation and mental confusion.
These symptoms appear within 3-14 days after exposure to the infectious agent but incubation period as long as 45 days has been reported.

About 40 to 75% of infected individuals may succumb to the disease. Survivors of acute encephalitis make a complete recovery, but long-term neurological complications like seizure disorders may persist. There is even a chance of latent infections with subsequent reactivation of Nipah virus which could be fatal.Fruit bats are the main reservoirs or carriers of Nipah virus. They do not get sick from the virus. However, they can pass it to pigs or humans.  Humans contract Nipah virus infection when they consume raw date palm sap (toddy) or ripe mangoes that are contaminated with infected bat's secretion or droppings, or when they come in direct contact with infected pigs or people with Nipah virus infection.

Human to human transmission occurs, especially in the health-care setting. There is no cure available for Nipah virus Infection, but it can be prevented. There perhaps is no need to be apprehensive about individual safety and safety of your family members. The above nutrition and food safety guidelines if inculcated as habits can help us all, not only in times like this but always!  Let's eat safe and be safe!

Some simple dietary and food safety tips

Fresh fruit consumption, even now is good for nutritional reasons. But, exercise caution and choose the ones that are not bitten or damaged by animals or have such marks.
This being the mango season, take special precaution when it comes to consuming mangoes that have fallen off trees and lying under them.
Avoid fruit juice, says one of our guidelines, (albeit for added sugar) now it is all the more better because one cannot be sure of the fruit that was used in making it
Avoid palm sap (toddy) drink. This fits well with our dietary guideline of minimising alcoholic drinks. If you want to consume still, then boil the palm sap after collection. Also, keep bats away from sap collection sites with protective coverings.
Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables under clean running water. Cut or peel the fruit only after washing. 
After handling raw fruits and veggies at home or in the market, wash your hands clean with soap and water.
Never keep raw fruits, vegetables and cooked foods together when storing foods even in refrigerators.
Avoid contact with pigs. Wear protective clothing and gloves while handling the sick animals and of course, keep even pets away from home kitchens.
Simple food safety measure of washing hands thoroughly with soap after handling pets/animals can go a long way.
Maintain simple hygiene habits like avoiding spitting, using clean handkerchief or tissue to cover the mouth when coughing, washing hands with soap and water before and after meals and after coming back from markets after buying fruits and vegetables, which are most important.

(The author is the director, National Institute of Nutrition- ICMR, Hyderabad. E-mail: directornin@ninindia.org/ dir_nin@yahoo.co.in)

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