In annual outbreaks throughout Bangladesh, Nipah virus kills around 70 percent of the people it infects. The virus, a distant relative of measles, has no vaccine and no proven medical countermeasures. EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, released Monday the results of a major six-year study to understand how these outbreaks begin and how to prevent them.

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Outbreaks typically occur within what is known as the “Nipah belt,” which stretches along Bangladesh’s western border with India. But EcoHealth Alliance scientists found that bats throughout Bangladesh had relatively similar patterns of Nipah virus infection. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Nipah virus: Bangladesh IEDCR reports 6 cases, 4 deaths

“Nipah circulates regularly in large fruit eating bats throughout many parts of Asia, but human outbreaks can only occur where there is a route of transmission from bats to humans,” EcoHealth Alliance Vice President for Science and Outreach Dr. Jonathan Epstein said. “The problem is, we don’t have a good handle on where else in the world spillover may be happening, which means we’re likely missing outbreaks. Risk is not so much limited by geography as it is by human behavior. This is a virus that spreads from person to person and is lethal in three quarters of those it infects, which is why we have to pay close attention to it and do what we can to prevent outbreaks.”

Nipah outbreaks have been linked to consumption of raw date palm sap, as well as infection through an intermediate host such as domesticated animals such as pigs.

Read more at EcoHealth Alliance