Zoonotic diseases are rife in India, from Kyasanur Forest disease (KFD) to malaria. Amongst their number is now the coronavirus. In a positive development, recent research in mapping the spread of zoonotic conditions could offer hope towards better prevention and treatment management.
KFD – colloquially known as ‘monkey fever’ – is a disease known to spike on a yearly basis in and around Karnataka. An estimated 500 cases of KFD are reported in India every year. Though the disease shows only a limited number of cases on a yearly basis, it is of particular concern due to its mortality rate of around ten percent.
The symptoms can include a haemorrhagic fever that sets in with chills and nosebleeds and can progress to neurological issues such as severe headaches and vision defects. Similar to coronavirus, KFD has no specific treatment beyond symptom management and hospitalisation.
The disease has one advantage over other zoonotic conditions — it is vaccine-preventable. New research has developed a system of risk-mapping tools to allow targeted vaccination drives in the hopes of entirely isolating the disease.
“This is a pioneering effort at mainstreaming the advantages of cross-disciplinary initiatives to predict areas of high vulnerability,” said Abi T. Vanak, a senior fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and one of the authors of the paper.
“KFD damages the health and livelihoods of the communities that live in and around the Western Ghats such as small-holder farmers, forest workers, migrant agricultural labourers and tribal groups that harvest non-timber forest products,” noted Bethan V. Purse, lead author and ecologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom.
The mapping system takes a multidisciplinary approach. It pools data regarding human cases, risk factors and predictions, historical patterns in KFD spread, geographical risk factors such as types of forests and plantations, the altitude, the amount of forest loss, densities of people and cattle, and tick and monkey surveillance to produce a risk assessment map. With this map, the spread of the disease can be monitored and predicted to allow for optimal allocation of vaccine delivery.
In theory — combined with the approach of vaccinating those within ten kilometres around current cases — this could allow for the disease to be isolated and contained. Such a thorough approach in assessing disease risk is ideal for a disease that as of yet is isolated to smaller regions of the Whestern Ghats. Other zoonotic diseases, such as malaria and the coronavirus are far more easily spread, and stretch across a global scale. The tool may, however, offer hope in assessing local infection rates, making it an avenue of future research for disease surveillance.