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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

NIPAH: When a meme goes viral.

Raise your hand if you know at least one internet meme, You know, those pics, videos, and crazy phrases that get emulated over and over? That is what we mean.  Such memes are said to have gone 'viral' if they are played with enough.

Well, it turns out NIPAH! is an actual virus. Who knew?

OK, so technically, the Nipah infection virus (NiV) is a virus of the Henipavirus genus. The only other known member of this genus is the Hendra virus. Nipah is native to Southeast Asia (virtually all of it), India, and Africa,  and could get really dangerous really fast. Despite its cute resemblance to an internet meme, it is named after a village in Malaysia that we hope has gotten tourist business from its similarity to Rika's catchphrase. It was named in 1999.

Nipah virus is nowhere near as fun as its name might suggest. It all starts with contact with coughing (or "barking") pigs. Then it escalates into flulike symptoms of fever and muscle pain. Then it moves on to inflammation of the brain and, in worst cases, comas and death. Twirling and repeating the word "nipah" is not a symptom; if you experience this, I suggest checking for Hinamizawa Syndrome instead.

I wouldn't touch that pig if I were you.

The main vectors of the Nipah virus are fruit bats.  Every place in Southeast Asia, from India to Vietnam, has fruit bats, and Nipah could be in any one of them. The bats themselves have antibodies to the virus. The virus can also be found in the urine and saliva of fruit bats. It should be common sense to avoid fruit that's been partially-eaten by gods-know-what, but someone must be silly enough to try it. The bats were probably as close and contagious as they were thanks to habitat destruction; chalk up another fail tally for humanity.

Nipah virus is a real threat. It can spread from virtually any mammal to another. It has already hopped from bats to pigs, leading to million-dollar losses for the farming industry in Malaysia. It can cross from humans to pigs just as easily as it can from bats to pigs. Oh, and it's mutating - just like a real meme- so whatever we come up with might not work in the near future. This thing attacks anything with hair, remember.

Image (c) Higurashi.

Nipah!- the only meme that turns villages into ghost towns.

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