Scientists investigating the rise in cases of the mysterious Kyasanur forest disease (KFD) or ‘monkey disease‘, which has killed over 300 people in recent years, mostly across the Western Ghats in Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, have sought detailed surveillance of the forested region and a holistic approach to tackle the viral haemorrhagic fever.
A report published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, calls for an urgent review of vaccination strategies and detailed research for development of potential vaccine to counter KFD.
“It is time to understand the influence if any of comorbid conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, alcoholism on the pathogenesis and evolution of disease. Detailed surveillance is needed in the Western Ghats, especially in the areas where KFD is not yet reported,” the report authored by scientists Ashok Munivenkatappa, Rima Sahay, Pragya Yadav, Rajalakshmi Viswanathan, Devendra Mourya said.
The scientists are attached to the National Institute of Virology, Bengaluru, Maximum Containment Laboratory, Pune, Diagnostic Virology Group, Pune, National Institute of Virology, Pune, respectively.
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.
“The disease was limited to the Western Ghats of Karnataka for about seven decades. However, since the last five years, cases have been reported from adjacent states of Karnataka along the course of Western Ghats. The burden of the disease is increasing with the years,” the research paper states.
The Western Ghats provide ideal topographical and climatological conditions for the vector ticks, thus making the region ideal for the tick-borne disease.
With the prevalence of KFD limited for now to remote forested areas, the disease poses a great challenge in establishing molecular and serological diagnosis, because of the inaccessibility of the region.
“Humans gets exposed to ticks while visiting the forest for farming or grazing livestock animals, collecting dried leaves or dry woods, hunting or trekking, cashew cut forming and disposal of KFD-infected dead monkeys,” the report said.