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a) The Nipah test

The outbreak of the deadly Nipah virus around Kozhikode, Kerala, is a test of India’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies. In 2018, the World Health Organisation listed Nipah as one of the 10 priority pathogens needing urgent research, given its ability to trigger lethal outbreaks and the lack of drugs available against it. As an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus, Nipah has an exceptional rate of mutation — that is, it can easily adapt to spread more efficiently among humans than it does now. Such an adaptation would result in a truly dangerous microbe.

Nipah already kills up to 70% of those it infects, through a mix of symptoms that include encephalitis, a brain inflammation marked by a coma state, disorientation, and long-lasting after-effects, such as convulsions, in those who survive. Thankfully, in most outbreaks in South Asia so far, the virus has displayed a “stuttering chain of transmission”. This means that once the virus spreads from fruit bats, its natural reservoir, to humans, it moves mainly to people in close contact with patients, such as hospital staff and family caregivers.

But these caregivers are at high risk, because the sicker the patients become, the more virus they secrete. Preliminary reports suggest that the Kozhikode outbreak is also displaying a stuttering chain of transmission. Of the 11 confirmed Nipah fatalities, three were from the same family. While researchers are still investigating how they were exposed, a bat colony living in a well in the family’s yard is a strong suspect.

This fits in with how outbreaks have historically begun in the subcontinent. In a 2007 outbreak in Nadia, West Bengal, for example, patient zero is believed to have acquired the virus from palm liquor contaminated by bat droppings. The next wave of infections has historically occurred among close contacts and caregivers, such as nurses; the same pattern has been detected in Kozhikode as well.

But these are preliminary reports, and new information may change what we know about the present virus. Several patients with symptoms of infection are under observation. Only when clinical investigations are complete can it be determined how contagious the virus really is. If it is found travelling over long distances, the authorities will have to be ready with strategies to combat its spread. The good news is that Kerala’s public health systems have acted with extraordinary efficiency so far. Doctors identified the virus in the very second patient, a diagnostic speed unrivalled in developing countries.

This must be commended. But big challenges remain. The death of a nurse shows that health-care workers may not be taking adequate precautions when dealing with patients, by using masks and following a strict hand-wash regimen. The virus has no specific treatment. The best defences against it are the age-old principles of infection control, which Indian hospitals have not mastered as yet.

b) Venezuela: After re-election

Venezuelan protesters failed last year to force President Nicolás Maduro to step down in the midst of an economic and humanitarian crisis. After his emphatic victory in Sunday’s presidential elections, they have to reconcile themselves to his rule for another six-year term. The embattled Mr. Maduro won the poll with 68% of the vote, and with a turnout of less than 50%, according to the election commission. Potential challengers to Mr. Maduro, Hugo Chávez’s protégé and successor, are either in detention or barred from the contest after they organised mass protests against his government, alleging brutal misrule and economic mismanagement. An umbrella coalition of opposition parties and activist groups, the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela, had called on the people to boycott what they said was as a sham exercise. Mr. Maduro’s closest rival, Henri Falcón, alleged fraud and demanded a fresh ballot. It is highly unlikely that demands for a re-poll will be countenanced by the Maduro regime. But it is clear that the shrinking democratic space has exerted a toll on the polity overall. The Venezuelan health system has all but collapsed. A Minister who expressed concern over the high incidence of certain diseases that were believed to have been eradicated was sacked promptly last year. The collapse of the medical system is particularly shocking, given the emphasis on health care in Chavez’s commodity-driven growth model. Inflation has hit 13,000%, and the economy is set to contract further. It is hard to believe that Venezuela, with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, was considered Latin America’s wealthiest country not so long ago. Venezuelans have been leaving the country to escape shortages of rations and the rampant unrest. The UN estimates that each day 4,000 Venezuelans are making it across to Colombia. There is talk of a concerted international response to the Venezuelan crisis after Mr. Maduro’s re-election, especially further sanctions by the U.S. and possibly the European Union. But there are moral and practical limits to these measures against a country that is gripped by a systemic crisis — and the humanitarian costs of sanctions must not be ignored. In any case, Venezuela’s oil production has been falling steadily, and analysts do not expect that an embargo on its exports would have the desired impact. Mr. Maduro may be part of Venezuela’s problem. But he can be a big part of the solution as well. He could make a beginning by ceding democratic space for dissent both within and outside his party, and by rolling back the country’s confrontational foreign policy. Blaming the West alone for Venezuela’s economic crisis will not get him very far.


1) Outbreak

Meaning: A sudden occurrence of something unwelcome, such as war or disease.

Example: “The outbreak of World War II”

Synonyms: Eruption, Flare-up.

2) Lethal

Meaning: Sufficient to cause death.

Example: “A lethal cocktail of drink and pills”

3) Mutation

Meaning: The changing of the structure of a gene, resulting in a variant form which may be transmitted to subsequent generations, caused by the alteration of single base units in DNA, or the deletion, insertion, or rearrangement of larger sections of genes or chromosomes.

Example: “Mutation is, ultimately, the only way in which new variation enters the species”

Synonyms: Alteration, Change.

4) Encephalitis

Meaning: Inflammation of the brain, caused by infection or an allergic reaction.


5) Inflammation

Meaning: A localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.

Example: “Steroid injections can have a dramatic effect in reducing inflammation and relieving pain”

Synonyms: swelling, Puffiness.

6) After-effect

Meaning: An effect that follows after the primary action of something.

Example: “He was suffering the after-effects of the drug”

Synonyms: Repercussion, Aftermath.

7) Convulsion

Meaning: A sudden, violent, irregular movement of the body, caused by involuntary contraction of muscles and associated especially with brain disorders such as epilepsy, the presence of certain toxins or other agents in the blood, or fever in children.

Example: “Toxic side effects like convulsions”

Synonyms: Fit, Seizure.

8) Stutter

Meaning: Talk with continued involuntary repetition of sounds, especially initial consonants.

Example: “The child was stuttering in fright”

Synonyms: Stammer, Stumble.

9) Reservoir

Meaning: A population, tissue, etc. which is chronically infested with the causative agent of a disease and can act as a source of further infection.

Example: “There is a vast reservoir of herpes infection in the community”

10) Suspect

Meaning: Have an idea or impression of the existence, presence, or truth of (something) without certain proof.

Example: “If you suspect a gas leak, do not turn on an electric light”

Synonyms: Have a suspicion, Have a feeling.

11) Contaminate

Meaning: Make (something) impure by exposure to or addition of a poisonous or polluting substance.

Example: “The site was found to be contaminated by radioactivity”

Synonyms: Pollute, Adulterate.

12) Droppings

Meaning: The excrement of certain animals, such as rodents, sheep, birds, and insects.

Example: “Rat droppings”

Synonyms: Excrement, Excreta.

13) Contagious

Meaning: (Of a disease) spread from one person or organism to another, typically by direct contact.

Example: “A contagious disease”

Synonyms: Infectious, Communicable.

14) Combat

Meaning: Take action to reduce or prevent (something bad or undesirable).

Example: “An effort to combat drug trafficking”

Synonyms: Fight, Battle against.

15) Unrivalled

Meaning: Better than everyone or everything of the same type.

Example: “The paper’s coverage of foreign news is unrivalled”

Synonyms: Unequalled, Without equal.

16) Commend

Meaning: Praise formally or officially.

Example: “He was commended by the judge for his courageous actions”

Synonyms: Praise, Compliment.

17) Precaution

Meaning: A measure taken in advance to prevent something dangerous, unpleasant, or inconvenient from happening.

Example: “He had taken the precaution of seeking legal advice”

Synonyms: Safeguard, Preventative/preventive measure.

18) Regimen

Meaning: A prescribed course of medical treatment, diet, or exercise for the promotion or restoration of health.

Example: “A regimen of one or two injections per day”

19) Step down

Meaning: Withdraw or resign from an important position or office.

Example: “He stepped down as party leader”

Synonyms: Resign, Stand down.

20) Midst

Meaning: The middle part or point.

Example: “He left his flat in the midst of a rainstorm”

Synonyms: Middle, Centre.

21) Emphatic

Meaning: (Of an action or its result) definite and clear.

Example: “An emphatic World Cup win”

Synonyms: Conclusive, Decisive.

Antonyms: Narrow.

22) Reconcile

Meaning: Restore friendly relations between.

Example: “The king and the archbishop were publicly reconciled”

23) Embattled

Meaning: (Of a place or people) involved in or prepared for war, especially because surrounded by enemy forces.

Example: “The embattled northern province”

24) Turnout

Meaning: The number of people attending or taking part in an event, especially the number of people voting in an election.

Example: “We reckon that thirty-five per cent is a good turnout for local elections”

Synonyms: Attendance, Number of people present.

25) Detention

Meaning: The action of detaining someone or the state of being detained in official custody.

Example: “The fifteen people arrested were still in police detention”

Synonyms: Custody, Imprisonment.

26) Barred

Meaning: Prevent or prohibit (someone) from doing something or from going somewhere.

Example: “Journalists had been barred from covering the elections”

Synonyms: Prohibit, Debar.

Antonyms: Admit, Accept.

27) Allege

Meaning: Claim or assert that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically without proof.

Example: “He alleged that he had been assaulted”

Synonyms: Claim, Assert.

28) Brutal

Meaning: Savagely violent.

Example: “A brutal murder”

Synonyms: Savage, Cruel.

29) Boycott

Meaning: Withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest.

Example: “We will boycott all banks which take part in the loans scheme”

Synonyms: Spurn, Snub.

30) Rival

Meaning: A person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.

Example: “He has no serious rival for the job”

Synonyms: Competitor, Opponent.

31) Countenance

Meaning: Admit as acceptable or possible.

Example: “He was reluctant to countenance the use of force”

Synonyms: Tolerate, Permit.

32) Shrink

Meaning: Become or make smaller in size or amount.

Example: “The workforce shrank to a thousand”

Synonyms: Contract, Diminish.

33) Eradicate

Meaning: Destroy completely; put an end to.

Example: “This disease has been eradicated from the world”

Synonyms: Get rid of, Eliminate.

34) Promptly

Meaning: With little or no delay; immediately.

Example: “He paid the fine promptly”

Synonyms: Punctually, On time.

35) Rampant

Meaning: (Especially of something unwelcome) flourishing or spreading unchecked.

Example: “Political violence was rampant”

Synonyms: Uncontrolled, Unrestrained.

36) Gripped

Meaning: (Of an emotion or situation) have a strong or adverse effect on.

Example: “She was gripped by a feeling of excitement”

Synonyms: Afflict, Affect.

37) Embargo

Meaning: An order of a state forbidding foreign ships to enter, or any ships to leave, its ports.

Example: “An embargo laid by our Emperor upon all vessels whatsoever”

38) Cede

Meaning: Give up (power or territory).

Example: “In 1874, the islands were ceded to Britain”

Synonyms: Surrender, Concede.

39) Dissent

Meaning: Hold or express opinions that are at variance with those commonly or officially held.

Example: “Two members dissented from the majority”

40) Rollback

Meaning: Restore (a database) to a previously defined state.

Example: The telephone company has asked for a roll-back of leasing rules.

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