Kyasanur Forest Disease can be fatal to humans and primates
Scientists have launched a project that seeks to understand why and how a deadly tick-borne disease is spreading in India.
The collaborative project focuses on Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) which can be fatal to humans and other primates. It first emerged in Indian forest ecosystems in 1957 and has since spread to new districts and states within India.
The disease mainly affects poor forest communities, including tribal forest dwellers, plantation workers and marginal farmers. While it can be managed through vaccination, a lack of awareness and poor uptake can exacerbate the epidemic.
"Around 30 million people in India live within degraded forests and rely on them for food, fuel and livestock fodder,” explained project leader Dr Bethan Purse of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).
"However, forest use increases exposure of humans and livestock to pathogens that cycle naturally in wildlife and arthropod vectors in intact forests. Forest communities are not only more vulnerable to infection but also to disease impacts because they are more remote from health centres and professionals.
"Globally upsurges in many zoonotic diseases, including Ebola, malaria and Leishmaniasis have been linked to deforestation or human uses of forests. Since we don’t understand the ecological and social factors that underpin these changes, such disease problems are difficult to manage and predict.”
Focussing on the Western Ghats, the project will bring together experts in public health, animal health, wildlife and forest ecology and human behaviour.
It will be the first of its kind to study and disentangle the ecological and social risk factors for KFD at the same time. It aims to predict where, when and during which activities, local communities are most at risk of contracting KFD.
The results will inform a support tool to improve targeting of risk communication, vaccination and other protection measures towards high-risk local communities, reducing health impacts of KFD across the region.
"There is an urgent need to address disease emergence in a unified inter-disciplinary manner and develop a decision-support tool that reduced the health, welfare and livelihood impacts of KFD,” said Dr S L Hoti, the lead investigator in India. “This methodology and tool can be extended to other vector-borne zoonotic diseases too."