Monkey fever outbreak in Chikkamagaluru raises alarm

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Chikkamagaluru, a district in Karnataka known for its coffee plantations and scenic beauty, is facing a serious health threat from a viral infection called Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD), or monkey fever. The disease, which is transmitted by ticks or contact with infected monkeys, has claimed two lives and affected nine people in the district so far this year. The state health department is taking measures to prevent the spread of the infection and vaccinate the vulnerable population.

What is monkey fever and how does it spread?

Monkey fever is a tick-borne viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Kyasanur Forest disease virus (KFDV), a member of the Flaviviridae virus family. The virus was first identified in 1957 when it was isolated from a sick monkey in the Kyasanur Forest of Karnataka. The virus mainly affects monkeys and rodents, but can also infect humans who come in contact with them or their habitats.

The primary mode of transmission to humans is through the bite of an infected tick, especially the nymph stage of the tick. The ticks feed on the blood of monkeys and rodents, and can also attach to humans who enter the forest areas. The ticks are most active during the dry season, from November to June. Another mode of transmission is through direct contact with an infected animal, particularly a sick or recently dead monkey. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission.

What are the symptoms and complications of monkey fever?

The incubation period for KFD ranges from 3 to 8 days. Initial symptoms include chills, fever, headache, severe muscle pain, vomiting, gastrointestinal issues, and bleeding problems that may arise 3 to 4 days after the initial onset. Some patients may experience low blood pressure, and reduced counts of platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells.

Monkey fever outbreak

A subset of patients may go through a biphasic course where, after 1 to 2 weeks of initial symptoms, they face a second wave characterised by fever and neurological manifestations such as severe headache, mental disturbances, tremors, and vision deficits. The estimated case-fatality rate for KFD is from 3% to 5%.

How can monkey fever be prevented and treated?

Prevention of monkey fever involves several strategies. A vaccine is available and used in endemic areas of India. The vaccine is given in three doses, followed by a booster dose every six months. The vaccine is effective in preventing the disease, but may cause mild side effects such as fever, headache, and pain at the injection site.

Other preventive measures include using insect repellents, wearing protective clothing in tick-infested areas, and avoiding contact with potentially infected animals. Controlling tick populations in wildlife and practising good hygiene are also important steps in preventing the spread of the disease.

Treatment for monkey fever is mainly supportive and symptomatic. There is no specific antiviral drug for KFD. Patients are given fluids, electrolytes, blood transfusions, and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. Patients with neurological complications may require intensive care and monitoring.

What is the situation of monkey fever in Chikkamagaluru?

Chikkamagaluru is one of the districts in Karnataka that is endemic for KFD. The district has reported nine positive cases of monkey fever since January 1, 2024. Two of them have died due to the infection. The first death was of a 79-year-old man from Sringeri taluk, who died at a private hospital in Manipal on February 6. The second death was of a 45-year-old woman from Mudigere taluk, who died at a government hospital in Chikkamagaluru on February 7.

The district health department has taken several measures to contain the outbreak and prevent further cases. The department has set up a rapid response team, consisting of doctors, nurses, and field staff, to conduct surveillance, testing, and vaccination in the affected areas. The team has collected blood samples from 120 people who had symptoms or contact with the positive cases, and sent them to the National Institute of Virology in Pune for confirmation. The team has also vaccinated 3,500 people in the high-risk areas, and distributed insect repellents and awareness materials to the public.

The district administration has also issued an alert to the forest department, the animal husbandry department, and the local bodies to monitor the situation and report any unusual deaths of monkeys or other animals. The administration has also appealed to the people to avoid visiting the forest areas, and to seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of monkey fever.

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