Jungle virus stirs
A lesser-known viral disease, similar to Ebola and dengue and so far confined to just five forest districts of Karnataka, has recently been reported from Kerala and Tamil Nadu
NSuresh N S, AGARATNA AND a young farmer couple, live in Bandikkoppa village in Thirthahalli taluk of Karnataka’s Shivamogga district. Their small house is surrounded by forests of the Western Ghats. In January last year,both of them fell ill.They had thought it was flu but the fever did not subside even after five days. “So we decided to visit the primary health centre (phc),”says Nagaratna.At the phc,they were referred to the taluk government hospital, which sent their blood samples to the National Institute of Virology (niv) in Pune. Lab tests at niv confirmed that the couple had Kyasanur forest disease (kfd), a viral haemorrhagic disease similar to Ebola and dengue.
The couple was among the 137 people who suffered from the disease in Karnataka during January-May last year. Except eight, all were from Thirthahalli taluk. It also killed a forest guard in the area.This is the first time since 2003 that such a high number of kfd patients was reported from the state.In 2003, over 300 cases were reported.
kfd is not a new disease in the district. The first outbreak was reported in March 1957 after a series of unnatural deaths of monkeys and a mysterious fever engulfed the residents of Kyasanur, a forest village in Soraba taluk. Since then the state has seen frequent outbreaks, but the disease had been restricted to just five districts in the Western Ghats (see ‘Bigger threat’ p15).
However niv director Devendra T Mourya says there was always a suspicion that kfd might be present in other states as well.He says that niv has in the past found the antibodies against this pathogen in samples collected from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra,West Bengal,Tamil Nadu,and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Mourya’s fears have been proven right as cases of kfd have recently been reported in new areas. In 2014, niv found six kfd cases among tribals in the reserved forests of Malappuram district of Kerala.A tribalman in Nedumgayam reserved forest range in