Mayhem in Eregi as schoolgirls fall victim to mysterious disease

Eregi Girls High School

The entrance to Eregi Girls High School in Kakamega County on October 3, 2023. Chaos broke out at the learning institution following an outbreak of a strange illness that affected dozens of students on Monday.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Parents allowed to take their children from school after some learners went on rampage and destroyed government official vehicles.
  • Kakamega County Director of Medical Services Dr Steven Wandei said contagious disease could wipe out a whole family if not well managed.

Health and Education officials in the Western Region on Tuesday refused to close the Eregi Girls High School following an outbreak of a strange disease that had affected 95 students by last night, saying they have taken precautionary measures to avert the spread of the disease.

This came even as some parents were allowed to take their children out of school after some students went on a rampage, vandalising government vehicles.

The Western Region Director of Education, Jared Obiero, said some parents insisted on going home with their daughters, prompting some girls to become rowdy and start throwing stones at government officials who were at the school. 

Eregi Girls: Parents take their children home as more students fall ill

“Some of our vehicles' window panes were destroyed and we allowed parents who wanted to take their children home to sign in commitment. For students whose parents did not come to the school and those whose parents did not want them to leave school remained and learning will continue as usual for the remaining three weeks,” said Mr Obiero.

“In essence, the school has not been closed. Learning will go on as usual save for a few students who were taken by their parents.” 

Kakamega County Director of Medical Services, Dr Steven Wandei, said the infectious disease could wipe out an entire family if not well managed.

“We need to find out what is ailing our girls and discover its cause before we can allow the remaining students to go back home and mingle with their other siblings. It will be disastrous if we allow the students to go home when the disease is infectious,” he said.

By last night, the number of students affected by the mysterious limb-paralysing disease had risen to 95 after some 33 new cases were registered. 

At least 62 students were admitted to various hospitals in Kakamega County on Monday night after contracting the disease.

This comes after three students and a teacher succumbed to the disease that broke out at Mukumu Girls High School in April this year.

It remains a mystery what is afflicting schools in Western Region after more than 500 pupils from Mukumu Girls and 100 boys from Butere Boys were hospitalised due to the outbreak.

Most of the affected pupils from Eregi Girls are in Form One, Two and Three, with Western Regional Director of Education Jared Obiyo announcing 48 cases in Form One, 39 in Form Two, 15 in Form Three and 1 in Form Four out of a total enrolment of 1,684.

Of those hospitalised, 20 are at Iguhu Level Four Hospital, 30 at Kakamega County General Hospital, 31 at Mukumu Mission Hospital and 14 at Shibwe Sub-county Hospital. 

Others have been kept in the school sick room, where authorities say they are being monitored by school and county health officials.

This comes amid suspicions that some of the students were feigning illness out of fear of sitting for the end of year exams.

“Some 20 students showed similar signs to those of their colleagues who have been hospitalised, but were treated in the school, counselled and they have recovered. If we are not careful, we may find that only a few of the students are sick and that the majority are feigning their sickness,” said Mr Obiero.

“Form Three students were to start their end of year exams on Wednesday, but some of them are opposing the school programme, claiming they are not ready for the exams. This is why I am telling you that some of the cases may not be genuine,” he added.

The education official kept other students in the school to sit for their exams, which will determine their progression to the next grade, amid the insistence of parents who thronged the school to take their children home.

Parents who insisted on taking their daughters home claimed that the school was overcrowded and that any infectious disease would easily spread among the girls.

Kakamega County Health Executive Member Dr Bernard Wesonga, who led a team of health officials to assess the school, said the affected pupils suffered pain in their knees and were unable to stand or walk.

“This is a very strange disease but we are still diagnosing to find out its cause. Samples of faeces, urine and blood have been taken to government laboratories in Kisumu and Nairobi to find out the disease and its cause,” said Dr Wesonga.

He appealed to parents to allow their children to remain in school so that health officials can assess them and provide quality medical care to those affected instead of taking them home when some of the parents may not be able to meet the cost of the illness.

Preliminary tests revealed that the students were suffering from a condition known as elevated electrolytes. A nurse at the KCGH, who is not authorised to speak on behalf of the facility, hinted that preliminary tests on the Eregi students revealed a condition that paralysed the students' legs.

"This condition is referred to as elevated electrolytes, a condition that leads to loss of fluids in the body," the healthcare provider explained.

Risk factors for elevated electrolytes include cancer, cardiovascular disease, heart failure or high blood pressure, dehydration or overhydration, or water intoxication.

Dr Steven Wandei, the county's director of medical services, said the infectious disease could wipe out an entire family if not well managed.

“We need to find out what is ailing our girls and discover its cause before we can allow the remaining students to go back home and mingle with their other siblings. It will be disastrous if we allow the students to go home when the disease is infectious,” said Dr Wandei.

However, a section of parents who had thronged the school to check on their children demanded to go home with their children, accusing the school management of being ignorant of the parents and the neighbouring community.

They accused the headmistress, Jackline Itubo, of ignorance, claiming that they learnt about the disaster in the school from the media.

“Parents are not allowed in the school and when we come, we are not allowed to see our children. When this disease broke out, all class WhatsApp groups were closed and teachers refused to receive our phone calls. We were forced to [go to] the school to find out the welfare of our children,” said Esther Moraa, a parent.

Ms Consolata Okoth, a parent from Kisumu, visited the school to give her daughter examination materials, but was surprised to find the school in disarray.

“When I reached the gate, I saw students out of their classrooms with so many vehicles in the school. I did not know what was happening in the school until I inquired and was told that the school had witnessed a disease outbreak. This was so bad, especially when we have our ways that we communicate between us (parents) and the school management. Why didn’t they inform us about the condition of our children?” questioned the parent.

Mr Obiero, the RDE, directed the school management to open all avenues of communication and facilitate all information regarding the welfare of the pupils to their parents.