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Recent fatal outbreaks of Nipah virus in Bangladesh differ from previous Asian epidemics in two key ways. In contrast to the major Malaysian outbreak in 1998, no contact with pigs was involved, and the Bangladeshi cases also differed in that symptoms affected the nervous system rather than the lungs.

Fruit bats of the genus Pteropus carry Nipah virus, and direct contact with bat-contaminated fruit is being implicated in Bangladesh's outbreaks. The virus infected 30 people and killed 18 there in April, having already killed 17 in February.

French and Malaysian scientists recently reported success in using vaccinia viruses to protect golden hamsters from the disease. Their research raises the promise of developing a treatment for Nipah and the related Australian Hendra virus.

Reference: Nature 429, 7 (2004)

Link to full news in Nature