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The emergence of Nipah virus poses a threat to animal and public health, as well as to commerce and trade. Preliminary research has established that species of bats (genus Pteropus) are a natural host of the virus, however the occurrence of the virus across the distribution of other pteropid species is unknown. The overlapping distribution of these species (and so the consequent opportunity for contact) across much of the range of the genus makes the wider occurrence of Nipah or a related virus probable. The presence of Hendra virus in Australian pteropid species illustrates this.

The serious zoonotic nature of Nipah virus makes the development of and adherence to safe working practices a prerequisite to any investigation or research. It also dictates that the most appropriate initial detection methodologies for Nipah virus are those that don’t involve live virus, namely ELISA serology and immunohistochemistry. When using these tests however, it needs to be remembered that (like most laboratory tests) they have imperfect sensitivity and specificity, and false positive and false negative results will occur. These issues can be addressed by using appropriate sampling methodologies, by implementing quality assurance measures for testing, by determining criteria for test interpretation prior to testing, and by maintaining collaborative relationships with international reference laboratories.

Advance planning for emergency management of disease outbreaks is the first step in effective outbreak control, and requires legislative, management, and operational preparedness. The conduct of the outbreak investigation and control in Malaysia, the subsequent surveillance for further infection, and finally measures to demonstrate freedom from infection illustrate this. In addition, experience in Malaysia has shown that the successful management of the pig industry into the future requires a partnership approach between government agencies, industry representatives, and individual farmers. This approach provides a blueprint for the ongoing management of pig industries for freedom from Nipah virus.

The Malaysian Nipah virus experience, tragically costly in human, animal, and economic terms, has provided a spectrum of valuable information. To ignore the opportunity to learn from the experience is to ignore an opportunity to prepare for future eventualities, and squanders the lives and livelihoods lost to Nipah virus.

Dedicated to
the memory of those who died
in the Malaysian Nipah virus outbreak.

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