Health department must never lower their guard against KFD
THE detection of only 19 cases of the Kyasanur forest disease (KFD) or monkey fever in the state in the first four and half months of this year shows it is on decline. Most of the KFD cases (18 in number) this year have been detected in the Sattari taluka and one in the Casarvanem village of the Pernem taluka. Though decline is good news, the health authorities should not lower their guard till KFD is totally controlled. The authorities have taken several preventive measures including awareness drives on dos and don’ts that have proven effective in checking the spread of the disease. One of the measures was distribution of demethyl phthalate (DMP) tick-repellent oil to villagers, which on application on the body repels the ticks from biting and prevent spread of the disease. Vaccination drives to treat the people afflicted with the disease have also contained the disease. With no proven treatment line for the disease available in the country till date, the best way to fight the disease was to prevent tick bites and that is what has worked.
It is worth noting that some of the places like Dharbandora, Betki and Madkai, which recorded incidence of the disease last year, have not reported any case this year so far. It shows that people have become more aware and are taking precautionary measures in accordance with the advice of the health department officials on the ground. The first case of KFD was detected in Goa in 2016 – the year which saw the largest number of people afflicted with the disease (285) with three confirmed deaths. The emergence of the disease in 2016 sent shock waves not only through the affected parts but also across Goa. After that the number of cases has been on decline. There were only 85 cases reported in 2017 and 59 in 2018 and no deaths in either year.
KFD, a highly infectious disease, was first detected in 1957 in Karnataka. The health officials of the state did not know for sure how to handle it. For a long time it remained confined to certain parts of Karnataka. It later surfaced in certain parts of Goa, Kerala and Maharashtra. Antibodies against the KFD virus have also been detected in humans in certain parts of Gujarat, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar, which clearly suggests that the disease has crossed many boundaries and can enter any part. The data provided by health authorities of various states indicate that over 10,000 people were afflicted by the disease since the first case was detected in Karnataka. There is need for national surveillance with close participation of the health departments in states to prevent its further spread. As there is no effective cure for the disease, the health departments in states, including Goa, have their best option in keeping and distributing vaccine, even though it has limited effect. The focus of the health authorities should be on preventing newer outbreaks.
The drop in the incidence of the disease in Goa should not mean that the health authorities and the people drop their vigilance. The experience in Goa and other states has shown that prevention, early detection, supportive care, and management of symptoms have to be the primary responses to reduce the effects of illness caused by the KFD virus. The health authorities need to keep constantly monitoring the situation to make sure all the required equipment were in place at all the health centres to take immediate care of those showing symptoms of the disease. The campaign for creating awareness about disease and its prevention must continue.
It is matter of great regret that medical science has not found a permanent cure of KFD six decades after it was first reported. The Union health ministry must support research on the infection. Knowledge must be acquired from other parts of the world. The need is to develop a vaccine that will prevent infection. However, until the medical science catches up, the state health department officials must work with the tools available to them to prevent and treat the disease.