Girl’s death in Karnataka owing to Kyasanur Forest Disease intensifies need for vaccine

The Karnataka Government stopped vaccination in recent years after tests showed that the vaccine, which had been provided since 1990, was ineffective.

January 11, 2024 10:33 am | Updated January 12, 2024 11:47 am IST - Shivamogga

Vaccine being administered against Kyasanur Forest Disease in Shivamogga district. File

Vaccine being administered against Kyasanur Forest Disease in Shivamogga district. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The recent death of an 18-year-old girl from Hosanagar taluk in a suspected case of Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) has stressed the need for a vaccine to counter the spread of the infection in Malnad region. 

The last death due to KFD was reported in Shivamogga in 2020. So far, three cases of infection have been reported in the district this season (November to May). The State government stopped vaccination in recent years after tests showed that the vaccine, which had been provided since 1990, was ineffective.

What is Kyasanur Forest Disease?
KFD is an arthropod-borne disease that spreads from a virus through tick bites in forest areas.
People get infected when they visit forest areas, either to graze cattle or collect firewood.
The disease has been prevalent since 1956; many people have died due to the infection.

Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dinesh Gundu Rao, replying to a question by MLC D.S. Arun, in the Belagavi session, said the efforts to procure a new vaccine were on. “We are in consultation with ICMR for the vaccine. The problem is that vaccine manufacturers are not showing interest as the number of vaccine users is low. They have to spend a lot of money on research for the vaccine,” he said. Further, the Minister said the government was ready to offer funds for research activities.

When The Hindu contacted D. Randeep, Commissioner of Health and Family Welfare, on January 10, the officer said the ICMR was in touch with Indian Immunological Limited to take up this task.

What is KFD

KFD is an arthropod-borne disease that spreads from a virus through tick bites in forest areas. The people get infected when they visit forest areas, either to graze cattle or collect firewood. The disease has been prevalent since 1956. Since then, many people have died due to the infection.

Up to 1971, the disease was confined to Shivamogga. As of now, cases have been reported in 10 districts. They are Shivamogga, Uttara Kannada, Chikkamagaluru, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Chamararajanagar, Belagavi, Hassan, Mysuru and Gadag. Over the years, it has spread to neighbouring States.

Major outbreak

Following a major outbreak of cases in 1983-84, when 139 people died, the State government gave approval for the manufacture of the KFD vaccine. The technical staff were trained at National Institute of Virology, Pune. The trial vaccine production was started in Shivamogga in 1989. Later, vaccine production shifted to Hebbal in Bengaluru. In 2019-20 alone, 1,79,988 people were covered in the vaccination programme. However, the same formalin-killed vaccine (prepared from chick embryo fibroblast culture) has been found inefficient now. The efficacy of the vaccine was taken up later, as a considerable number of vaccinated people contracted the infection.

The people of the affected area are worried about the delay in finding a better vaccine. K.P. Sripal, an advocate in Shivamogga, who filed a public-interest litigation in Karnataka High Court on the issue earlier, said that the government had not taken the issue seriously. “Now, they are saying the vaccine provided earlier is ineffective. Who knows how this ineffective vaccination impacted the health of the people who were vaccinated? There have been no studies to check the impact. We have been demanding for a research centre in Shivamogga,” he said.

So far, the families of the dead have not got compensation, he said. “Earlier, the government assured the people that it would bear the medical bill. Even that is not being fulfilled,” he rued.

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