Don’t Drink Raw Date-Palm Sap in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, raw date palm sap is collected during the cold season from mid-October to mid-March. Date palm sap harvesters (gachhis) shave one side of the date palm tree near the top in a V shape. They then place a bamboo tap at the base of the V to allow the sap to flow into a clay pot for the whole night and collect it in the early morning. This raw sap is considered to be a local delicacy and is consumed or sold in the early morning, within a few hours of collection.

The problem is that some local bats also like to drink the raw sap. These large fruit bats, called Indian flying foxes, have been known to lap up the running sap from the pots during the night, sometimes contaminating the pots with their saliva, urine or feces. These bats also often carry a virus known as Nipah virus that can be transmitted to humans.

The Nipah virus infection is not something you want. The illness begins with 3–14 days of fever, headache and cough with difficulty breathing. This is followed by drowsiness and disorientation characterized by mental confusion. The inflammation in the brain can progress to coma within 24–48 hours. About 75% of the people with this infection die. It basically causes dangerous brain inflammation in humans and is highly infectious.

While the disease is rare, there are sporadic cases. At present, health specialist have expressed concerns about a potential fresh outbreak following the confirmation of two recent deaths from the virus and four more suspected fatalities near the city of Dhaka. Laboratory tests have recently confirmed that two boys — aged 13 and 15 — died from the infection in the Shibaloy and Gjior of Manikganj district on the last week of December 2013.

Here is the good news! This is an easy disease to avoid. DON’T DRINK RAW DATE-PALM SAP. That’s it! Simple!