Fact or Hoax: Will Eating Chicken or Fruits Cause Nipah Virus Infection?
Will eating fruits cause Nipah virus infection? (Photo Credits: Free Stock Photos)

Self-preservation is the most important instinct we have as living beings. But sometimes, this very instinct makes us paranoid and behave in strange ways. The recent paranoia over the Nipah virus cases in Kerala is one such instance. We are oscillating between an information overload caused by news media on one hand and social-media generated half-truths on the other. A few weeks ago, a homeopathic remedy Gelsemium 2000 claimed to prevent Nipah virus attacks. And now, the Whatsapp misinformation brigade is at it again, warning people against eating chicken. The message reads:

“Nifa Virus attack in chicken tested in Manipal Institute of  Virology, Please don’t eat chicken for few days. Share this msg to near dear ones.”

The message has been actively circulated by social media do-gooders without fact-checking and is accompanied by picture of a rotting bird carcass. One such message also featured the forged seal of the district medical officer of Kozhikode Dr. V Jaishree. Poultry business has taken a hit after rumours of infected chicken has been doing rounds. With the shipment of vegetables and fruits going out of Kerala getting affected in the wake of these rumours, fruit vendors are facing a tough time during the Ramadan season where sales are usually high.

So Does Chicken Cause Nipah Virus Infection?

The Manipal Centre for Virus Research (MCVR) has categorically denied that any test on poultry has been conducted. Speaking to The Times of India, Dr. G Arunkumar, professor and head, MCVR, stated in a communique, “It is to bring to the notice of the public that MCVR has not tested any chicken samples for the Nipah virus, and has not reported any such findings as being claimed in the message.” He also added that the centre has filed a police compliant at the crime cell branch in Udupi and further warned perpetrators of legal action.

What About Fruits?

Since fruit bats are the primary carriers of the Nipah virus, people living in the endemic region were cautioned against eating fallen fruits, especially if they had bite marks. The fruit paranoia has spread to places even where no cases of Nipah were reported. But with the role of bats ruled out, it’s clear that some other factor is responsible for the spread of the virus.

Dr. Kirti Sabnis, Infectious Disease and Consultant Physician at Fortis Hospital Mulund says, “Nipah virus is a relatively new virus known to humans. In each outbreak, it has revealed something new, either about transmission or disease severity. As all the bat samples are negative for the infection, we need to look in to any other sources of infection in very first patient. It will enlighten us about other possible sources.”

She advises people to be careful only about contaminated fruits; there’s no need to go off fruits completely. “It’s ideal that the fruits be eaten that are thoroughly washed and completely peeled,” Dr. Sabnis adds.