What you need to know:
- Most children born late last year in Mombasa did not receive the rotavirus vaccine, which is normally administered at six weeks, due to an acute shortage of the jab in the region.
- The vaccine is administered to children under five to prevent severe diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. But the vaccine has not been available in hospitals, exposing children to risk of being infected by the virus.
When Mary* saw her daughter diarrhoea and vomit a week ago, she thought it was just a ‘normal disease’.
The resident of Kisauni in Mombasa self-medicated her baby and waited for her to recover. However, when the condition got severe, presenting with high temperatures, she rushed the baby to Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital, where she is currently admitted.
The four-months-old baby is among 75 others who are suspected to have contracted rotavirus, which broke out on April 11. Three have been confirmed to be suffering from the contagious virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting in infants and young children, with doctors saying an outbreak is expected with the onset of rains.
However, most children born late last year did not receive the rotavirus vaccine, which is normally administered at six weeks, due to an acute shortage of the jab in the region.
The vaccine is administered to children under five to prevent severe diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. But the vaccine has not been available in hospitals, exposing children to risk of being infected by the virus.
“There was a shortage of the vaccine in Mombasa and that could have led to the outbreak because many children were not vaccinated,” a doctor who requested anonymity told Healthy Nation.
Kenya Biovax Institute Limited chief executive officer Michael Lusiola said: "Vaccine is administered to build the immune system so that when you encounter the virus it can tackle it. It is important to be vaccinated against rotavirus," said Dr Lusiola.
Medics at the largest referral hospital in the Coast region are now overwhelmed by the high number of children suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting. Several other children are admitted to other facilities including Aga Khan Hospital. Some cases have also been reported at the Port Reitz sub-county hospital.
“Diarrhoeal diseases are common, especially during the rains. Incidentally, we have several children who have come in this week and are rota positive. There seems to be an increase in the number of rotavirus cases,” said Dr Hemed Twahir, a pediatrician at Aga Khan Hospital Mombasa.
Dr Twahir warned that the virus spreads rapidly.
“It spreads easily in daycare centres because they share sanitation facilities and it’s all about hand hygiene,” he said, advising that children should always clean their hands with water and soap to avoid getting infected.
Dr Twahir said the disease can be fatal especially for babies who have not been vaccinated and if not treated on time. He noted that there are no specific medicines to treat rotavirus infection, but doctors may recommend medicine to treat the symptoms.
However, he noted that since the vaccine was introduced by the national almost 10 years ago, the severity of the disease has reduced.
“Children still get infected but the symptoms are less severe.”
The pediatrician noted that the main treatment is to keep patients hydrated.
However, in case of a fever, medics try to manage it.
Diarrhoea is one of the leading causes of death among children under five globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than one in 10 child deaths – about 800 000 each year – is due to diarrhea.
Meanwhile Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad said the disease is suspected to have originated from a daycare centre in Kisauni. He added that the county government is collaborating with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) to help curb the outbreak.
He noted that 9,000 doses of the rotavirus vaccine were dispatched to the county government last week, urging parents to get their children to be vaccinated against the virus.
The county is also chlorinating all the boreholes.
“I urge the people of Mombasa, especially mothers with infants below the age of two years to observe strict hand and food hygiene. Allow children to be vaccinated and report any case of excessive diarrhea and vomiting to the nearest hospital,” said Mr Nassir.
WHO estimates that up to 200,000 children die each year of rotavirus, which is the leading cause globally of severe, dehydrating gastroenteritis in children under the age of five.
Rotarix is given in two oral doses to infants from six weeks of age. A second dose should be given at least four weeks after the first, and no later than 24 weeks, adding to the time pressure on inoculations.
The CS said there is a surge of diarrhea cases across the country urging schools to ensure proper sanitation, hygiene and food handling and storage.