While the country battles against the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, a study conducted by a team of medical professionals from Maharashtra and Goa has underlined the need for a comprehensive approach to tackle another seasonal viral outbreak of KFD or ”monkey disease”, which, like Covid-19, has no specific treatment yet.
A research paper published in the latest edition of the Tropical Medicine and Health journal, by medical professionals from government health facilities in Goa and the Nagpur-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences states that the Kyasanur Forest Disease, which has killed nearly 300 people across the Western Ghats region over the last decade and more, needs more attention, with 40 villages in Goa already affected by infections.
“…the recent increase in the density of cases is a cause for concern. This emphasises the need to strengthen other preventive measures such as tick control, spray with dimethyl phthalate, and health education to wear long shirts among people who go to the forest region apart from supportive care and vaccination,” the research paper states, adding that there is no specific cure yet for persons suffering from KFD.
“Implementation of these co-interventions will also benefit the people who come under non-targeted age group for vaccination and people who are not vaccinated. More awareness needs to be spread among the communities living along the forest region, especially those who visit the forest for cashew harvesting (which coincides with the tick transmission season), about the mode of transmission of the disease and preventive measures available,” the study also states, advocating “full vaccination coverage” in affected villages in North Goa.
KFD is caused by a similarly named virus which was first identified in 1957, when it was isolated from a sick monkey from the Kyasanur forest in Karnataka.
Over the last decade over 300 people across pockets in the Western Ghats, cutting across states, have died after infection by the rare disease which spreads through ticks, a parasite for which monkeys are common hosts.
In the last five years, at least eight persons died in Goa after contracting the disease, while a majority of the deaths occurred in the forested western fringe of Karnataka.
In recent years, there has been a spurt in the cases of reported KFD infections in Goa, as well as in Sindhudurg district, which is adjoining Goa and shares contiguous forest cover. Tamil Nadu and Kerala have also suffered from KFD outbreaks.
Goa alone has 462 KFD cases from 2015-18, the study says, adding that 90 per cent of the cases belonged in the age group of 15-64 years. “This is probably because persons in this age group are more exposed to the causative agent due to the outdoor nature of the work they are engaged in, especially in the forests,” the study states, adding that 94 per cent of the affected cases in Goa had a history of travel to the forest region, primarily for plucking of the cashew fruit.
The study also said that, with only 13 per cent of the 448 infected cases — which were a part of the survey pool — had been vaccinated against KFD indicating poor coverage.
“This might be due to poor implementation of the strategy or lack of community acceptance for the vaccine, the exact reasons requiring a qualitative exploration,” the study said.
“The reason for poor coverage was found to be inappropriate timing, poor awareness and various programmatic reasons including vaccine stock,” it adds.