India is once again in the grip of Nipah virus, the third recorded outbreak since 2001, with 11 deaths in Kerala confirmed so far. The natural host for the virus is fruit bats, whose habitats have been disturbed by rapid urbanization and increased levels of bat-human interaction. The National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme is investigating loss of natural habitat as a cause of this outbreak and the rise of other zoonotic diseases.
The Nipah is capable of both animal-to-human and human-to-human transmission. In past cases, the spread of the disease has occurred through the consumption of date palm sap that has been contaminated with bat urine of salvia.
There is no vaccine for prevention or cure for Nipah virus, which the WHO includes in its list of epidemic threats needing urgent R&D action.
In recent years there has been a rise in zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans), including Ebola, Hendra and the Kyasanur forest disease. Whilst there is no precise reason available for this recent upsurgence, strong evidence points to the destruction of natural habitats of those animals who naturally host these diseases.
Conservationists are concerned that the latest outbreak of the Nipah virus could spur a rise in bat culling, which could lead to further loss of habitat and aggravate the situation. Instead more measures need to be put in place to preserve key habitats for these animals, and protect them from urbanisation, while humans need to take preventative measures to avoid contact with bats.
What measures can urban developers take to prevent habitat loss? What other implications can habitat loss have for human health and wellbeing?