A major risk factor for Nipah encephalitis in people in Bangladesh is thought to be the consumption of raw date palm sap contaminated by the urine or saliva of Indian flying foxes, the wildlife reservoir of Nipah virus. However, Nipah cases have never been reported in people living in some areas of Bangladesh that have both a high consumption rate of date palm sap and evidence of the pathogen in the reservoir Indian flying fox population.
A collaborative investigation project on this subject is being conducted in by a group of doctors and veterinarians from Bangladesh undertaking in a 2-year One Health Epidemiology Fellowship as part of the ‘Integrating Education and Action for One Health’ program funded by the European Union and implemented by Massey University.
The project will compare date palm sap collection, processing, storage and marketing practices amongst date palm sap collectors (gacchis) operating in two areas of Bangladesh where Nipah cases have been reported in recent years with those in two areas where Nipah cases have never been reported but which have evidence of the virus in bats and high date palm sap consumption.
A second component of the project will involve serological testing of gacchis in all the study areas to determine whether they have evidence of exposure to Nipah virus. If a proportion of the gacchis are found to be seropositive, a nested case-control study will be conducted to identify date palm sap collection, processing, storage and marketing practices associated with the presence of antibodies against Nipah virus in gacchis.
The project aims to gain a more in-depth understanding of the variation and range of date palm sap collection, processing, storage and marketing practices within and between areas where Nipah encephalitis cases have and have not been reported, and may identify practices that are associated with an increased or a decreased risk of Nipah encephalitis occurring in people. This information will be very useful in the development of policy to control Nipah encephalitis in people in Bangladesh.
The Fellowship participants are from the human health, animal health, and wildlife sectors and are studying together in a Master’s degree program in One Health epidemiology and biosecurity. Through studies such as these they are applying their knowledge and collaborating to reduce the risks of endemic and emerging epidemic diseases transmitted from animals and wildlife to people in their country.
The ‘Integrating Education and Action for One Health’ program uses a One Health approach to strengthen capability and promote collaborative relationships between the human, animal and wildlife health sectors in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. This is key to managing endemic and emerging epidemic and pandemic disease threats.
The ‘Integrating Education and Action for One Health’ program is funded by the European Union and implemented by Massey University. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of Massey University.