THE Nipah virus, which kills at least half of victims, remains one of the world’s next pandemic threats, an expert has warned.
Oxford vaccine creator Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert said there is no vaccine against the virus which causes brain swelling.
But should it evolve to spread a faster rate, as Covid has learned to do, it could be disastrous.
Dame Sarah said: “Something everybody is very much aware of now, is how as SARS-CoV-2 has spread through the world.
“It’s mutated, it’s evolved and what we’ve ended up with is the Delta variant which is very highly transmissible.
“If we get a Delta variant [evolved to be more transmissible] of Nipah virus then suddenly we’ve got a highly transmissible virus with a 50 per cent fatality rate.”
During an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Dame Sarah said her team was struggling to raise the money needed to develop vaccines against diseases already known about, yet alone those yet to emerge.
Before starting work on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in January last year, Dame Sarah said she had been working on vaccines for the Nipah virus, Lassa fever and Mers.
But her work has gone “backwards” since the pandemic.
Dame Sarah said: “We learned in the pandemic that we could do things faster, we could do things better, we want to be applying those lessons, but we still need to get the funding in place to do that.
“We need stockpiles of vaccines against these pathogens we already know about because how’s it going to look if suddenly there’s a big Nipah outbreak that starts to spread around the world?
“We’ve known about that for years and we started making a vaccine five years ago, but we haven’t done it yet, it’s not finished.”
Nipah is "top of the list" of ten priority diseases that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified as potential sources of future epidemics
The health agency said in 2018 “there is an urgent need for accelerated research and development for the Nipah virus”.
Scientists have previously told The Sun Nipah could “absolutely be the cause of a new pandemic”.
The southern Indian state of Kerala had to stop a potential outbreak of the virus in September.
It came after a 12-year-old boy died of the disease, prompting isolation of hundreds of close contacts.
Two healthcare workers who nursed the boy were admitted to hospital.
Initially the virus may cause a fever, headache, and respiratory symptoms, before escalating to brain swelling and a coma.
The outbreak was the fifth in India since 2001, according to the WHO, with others centered in South East Asia.
Outbreaks tend to occur when humans catch Zipah from an animal, making it what's called a zoonotic disease.
Cases have been blamed on contact with sick pigs or by eating fruit that is contaminated with saliva or urine from infected bats.
There is potential that places like Cambodia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Thailand are at risk because there are known areas where bats live.
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