St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Scientists are trying to determine if the local Green Vervet monkey population is responsible for the recent outbreaks of mosquito-borne illness in the Federation.
This is according to Dr. Michel Vandenplas, Senior Scientist at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, speaking to the study of arbovirus transmission in the monkeys currently ongoing at the institution.
Ross University was given a grant of 300,000 US dollars by the Us-based National Institute of Health to study the transmission of arboviruses in the Green Vervet monkey population from mosquitos in the local ecosystems and how the viruses are spread in the human population.
In recent times the federation has been affected by Dengue, Chikungunya, and Zika viruses.
“Our institution being located on St. Kitts provides us with a unique opportunity for research. We have a country where we’ve seen the recent advent of chikungunya and more recently, Zika viruses. This has been something that has been of concern to the public. Over the past few years, we have been well aware of dengue being endemic on St. Kitts. Also, we have on St. Kitts, a unique monkey population. Having these two unique aspects in the environment in St. Kitts allows us as researchers to investigate the question of whether the monkeys on St. Kitts can potentially be infected with these viruses and consequently, serve as a reservoir for the virus on the island. Consequently, we’re going to be investigating whether these monkeys have been exposed to these viruses, and at the same time, do a survey of mosquito populations on the island to determine what mosquitos are present, and whether these mosquitos still carry these viruses, and to ensure public health safety, we want to know that the monkeys are not going to contribute to the spread of the virus locally, and within the region.”
Dr. Vandenplas added that the study will also look at how diseases are spread from animals to people on the island.
“Of course, in terms of public health the best outcome of this research would be to find that the monkeys on St. Kitts do not harbor the viruses. That’s what we intend to find out. If they do carry the virus, then we have to look at the control of the monkey populations on the island. So, the research that we’re doing here at Ross is not only to look at arboviruses but to look at diseases and zoonotic diseases as a whole on the island. So, this for veterinary researchers presents us with an opportunity to establish a strong research base on the island, at the same time we are developing laboratory capacity so that we can test patient samples for the presence of these viruses, and for other zoonotic diseases such as leptospiral. So, we are a developing capacity and as citizens and participants of research on the island we want to contribute to the development of improved public health.”
Dr. Sean Callanan, Dean at Ross University, said the research could prove to be an important aspect of prevention of these diseases.
“One of the stories that we will be addressing within our research: “Are the populations of monkeys a source of storage of virus, and to what extent will the viruses alter their genetic makeup?” because this is very typical of many different viruses, and if they are stored and where they’re stored and this is a very important factor when you come to look at the prevention of diseases and strategies going forward to be prepared. Preparedness is really quite important. So, I think that is a really crucial aspect of what the study will address in my mind.”
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Alistair Edwards said that this study will hopefully indicate to citizens that the monkey infestation issue is not just an issue of the agriculture sector, but a national one.
Edwards said there are an estimated 55,000 monkeys present on the island.
The research will take place over a two to three-year period.