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James Roth, Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine,
(515) 294-8459
Bridget Bailey, News Service, (515) 294-6881


AMES, Iowa -- Nipah virus has the potential to cause a lethal disease in humans and swine.

Nipah virus is a zoonotic disease that humans can contract by coming into direct contact with swine. Transmission from human-to-human has not been documented. No documented cases of Nipah have been reported in the United States.

Signs of Nipah in swine include rapid, labored breathing, harsh cough and lethargy or aggressive behavior. In humans, the virus may cause fever, severe headache, muscle tenderness and signs of encephalitis or meningitis. Approximately 40 percent of human victims die of Nipah.

In 1998 and 1999, a Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia caused the deaths of over 1 million swine and encephalitic conditions in 265 humans.

"The disease was eradicated from swine in Malaysia and has not recurred, although it is still likely to be present in fruit bats and could reappear some day," said James Roth, Iowa State assistant dean of veterinary medicine and distinguished professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine.

Roth and other scientists are searching for methods to prevent the disease from making a comeback.

Roth is working with the Veterinary Research Institute in Malaysia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the USDA Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York to develop a vaccine that induces an immune response for Nipah virus proteins in swine.

Roth said the goal of the study is to use a viral vector to determine if production of an immune response to Nipah virus proteins in swine results in immunity to the virus, much like a vaccination does for the measles. Roth said by protecting swine from the disease, scientists would be preventing the spread of Nipah to humans or other animals.

The CDC isolated two genes from the live Nipah virus and sent them to Plum Island, Roth said. Scientists at Plum Island inserted the genes into two different live virus vectors for use as vaccines. At Iowa State, Roth will test the vectors' ability to induce an immune response in pigs.

"We have not yet put them into pigs in Ames," Roth said. "That's the next step."

Roth said because the complete form of the virus is not in Ames, there is no threat of the deadly disease escaping.

The United States did not import live pigs from Malaysia in 1998 or 1999.


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