News FocusEpidemiology

Breaking the Chain in Bangladesh

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Science  04 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6021, pp. 1128-1131
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6021.1128

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Nipah virus claims few lives, but in Bangladesh, where nearly all known cases in the past decade have occurred, the virus kills almost three-quarters of those it infects and leaves many survivors with crippling neurological disorders. Almost every winter since 2001, the virus has flared up in Bangladesh and has killed 111 people in the past decade; 50 people died in 2004, the worst year. This winter is shaping up to be bad, with the death toll at 27 as Science went to press—and 2 months to go in the Nipah season. Disease hunters believe they have pinned down the virus's natural reservoir—fruit bats—and they have nailed a transmission route in Bangladesh: consumption of contaminated date palm sap. But fruit bats test positive for Nipah antibodies across southern Asia, and date palm sap is a delicacy throughout Bangladesh. Yet the virus mostly haunts only what investigators call "the Nipah belt," a clutch of districts near the Ganges River in western Bangladesh.