Can Nipah Spread Through Chicken? Fake WhatsApp Message Circulates in India

The deadly Nipah virus spreading in India is causing a bit of paranoia among some people. A series of similar hoax messages that essentially said the virus had been detected in chicken and people should avoid the meat made the rounds on the popular messaging app WhatsApp,The Hindu reported.

One of the messages even used the official seal of the district medical officer and said the health department issued a warning about chicken, which is false. Police are investigating who sent the message, according to The Hindu.

Since the virus was identified in 1999, it hasn't made the jump to chickens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus was first found in Malaysia and Singapore when pig farmers and those who came in close contact with pigs became ill in the village of Sungai Nipah.

That outbreak only caused the pigs involved to be mildly ill, but more than 100 humans of the nearly 300 who got sick died. Subsequent outbreaks occurred in Bangladesh and in India, but, in those cases, people only became ill after contact with infected bats, pigs or other people suffering from Nipah. That close contact can include when a person consumes raw date palm sap that an infected bat as contaminated, according to the CDC.

While the virus was seen in domestic animals in the 1999 outbreak, it was mainly pigs that caused and transmitted the infection. The "Manual on the Diagnosis of Nipah Virus Infection in Animals," issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations makes no mention of chicken or poultry at all. Additionally, the only mention of birds that were tested for the disease said the tests were negative. "There's no scientific evidence to date that it's transmitted by chicken," a CDC spokesperson told Newsweek.

People who are infected can be asymptomatic, or have acute respiratory problems or encephalitis that can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. The symptoms can be similar to those of the flu including fever and headaches along with muscle pain and a sore throat.

The incubation period is estimated to be between four days and two weeks, but it can be as long as 45 days, according to the WHO. The fatality rate varies from outbreak to outbreak but can range from 40 to 75 percent. The most recent death toll in India rose to 16 people on Tuesday, CNN reported. The outbreak is happening in the state of Kerala in India and more than 230 people have been tested, with 18 confirmed cases, according to the Department of Health and Family Welfare.

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials deposit a bat into a container after catching it inside a well at Changaroth, in Kozhikode, in the Indian state of Kerala on May 21. AFP/Getty Images