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Anti-Nipah breakthrough

Immunity enters newborn from mother

FE REPORT | January 25, 2023 00:00:00

Scientists have recently confirmed the transfer of humoral immunity against Nipah virus (NiV) from a mother to a newborn baby for the first time.

The Journal of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease published this novel finding by icddr,b scientists and partners.

It disclosed the information on the vertical transfer of immune properties.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the mortality rate for NiV is estimated at 40-75 per cent. In Bangladesh, it is about 71 per cent.

The survivors of NiV infection suffer from severe neurological complications.

Moreover, there is a high chance that these symptoms worsen progressively when a survivor becomes pregnant and approaches her term.

In January 2020, an under-five baby girl and her mother from Faridpur district were infected with NiV.

Both had a history of raw date palm sap consumption and were diagnosed as confirmed NiV cases. Unfortunately, the daughter passed away. The mother survived with significant residual neurological impairment. She conceived in November 2021 and was under thorough antenatal follow-up by the National Nipah Surveillance Authority. A healthy male baby was born in August 2022.

As part of the follow-up, specimens were collected and tested for NiV infection at the reference laboratory to exclude vertical transmission.

Although tested negative for anti-Nipah IgM and PCR for NiV, anti-Nipah IgG was observed. The transfer of humoral immunity against NiV to the neonate was confirmed for the first time.

Lead researcher Dr Syed Moinuddin Satter, assistant scientist and deputy project coordinator (Emerging Infections, Infectious Diseases Division) at icddr,b, said, "To the best of our knowledge, this finding is the first to report the vertical transfer of NiV-specific immune properties."

"It warrants further exploration of its effectiveness in virus neutralisation and its potential to protect newborns. This will also be a reference for vaccine recommendations for pregnant and young women against the Nipa virus."

To warn people from consuming raw date sap, Prof Dr Tahmina Shirin, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said, "We're observing people are interested in consuming raw date palm sap and also promoting this culture through social media."

"People indulge in it without knowing the havoc it can create. Even if someone says they have taken precautions while collecting raw date palm sap, we would urge everyone not to drink raw date palm sap because it's still unsafe."

Dr Tahmeed Ahmed, executive director at icddr,b, appreciated this collaborative effort, saying: "icddr,b in partnership with the government of Bangladesh has been running the world's longest Nipah zvirus surveillance to detect Nipah outbreaks, understanding the disease transmission, and finding new knowledge and insights that can help develop therapeutics and vaccines against this deadly infection."

"The effort has been rewarding, and I hope we will soon have effective preventive measures and treatments, and be able to save lives," he added.

NiV is a zoonotic virus (it is transmitted from animals to humans) and can also be transmitted through foods contaminated by animals or directly between people.

Fruit bats from the genus Pteropus are its natural reservoir, and NiV is one of the present time's fatal emerging pathogens.

Nipah was first reported in Bangladesh in 2001. NiV has become endemic to this densely populated country since then, with confirmed cases reported almost every year.

Until January 2023, a total of 331 NiV cases have been reported and 236 died.

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