Alert over Kenya's first case of H1N1 flu

Kenya's health officials have stepped-up surveillance at airports and other points of entry following the confirmation of the first H1N1 flu case in the country.

On Monday, Public Health and Sanitation minister Beth Mugo said tests carried out on samples of a 20-year-old British student at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and National Influenza Centre had tested positive for Influenza A (H1N1) popularly known as swine flu.

The student, who was in group of 34 British students, arrived in Kenya via Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on June 21. On arrival, the student and his colleagues, later travelled by bus to Kisumu where they are undertaking field studies.

“Two days later on arrival in Kisumu, the medical student developed a headache and joint pains where his samples were taken at a local facility before they were flown to Nairobi for testing on Sunday,” Mrs Mugo said.

Public Health and Sanitation ministry officials had quarantined the group of British students who are staying in a Kisumu hotel.

'No cause for panic'

Following the confirmation, Mrs Mugo has, however, moved fast in allaying fears by urging Kenyans not to panic over the disease.

“Swine flu is a relatively mild illness in areas affected, and therefore there should be no cause for panic... In a majority of cases, the disease does not require hospitalisation and it’s most likely that there will be more cases of H1N1 in Kenya.”

“If any of the contacts will exhibit flu-like symptoms, they will be tested and if found positive, they will be appropriately managed.”

“The public should however, remain calm since my ministry and partners have already put in place appropriate preventive measures...

“Currently, we have stocked over 50,000 doses of Tamiflu which is used to treat this disease,”.

The minister added: “Patients with flu-like illness should seek medical care especially those with other chronic diseases.
“We should also like to inform the public that the current flu vaccine does not protect against the new H1N1,”.

The ministry had in the meantime informed the World Health Organisation about the single case.

During the press conference held at Afya House in Nairobi, Mrs Mugo was accompanied by Government spokesman Alfred Mutua, Medical Services and Public Health Permanent Secretaries Prof James Kiyiapi and Mark Bor respectively.

On Saturday, Mrs Mugo called another press conference where she said tests carried out on a student from the UK had tested negative for HINI.

Preventive measures

On Monday, she urged people who exhibit flu like illness to seek immediate medical care especially those with other chronic diseases.

“As of now, the most effective preventive measures are good hygiene practices which should include frequent washing of hands with soap, covering mouth and nose with disposable tissue, avoiding touching of eyes, nose and mouth...

“We further advice the public to avoid close contact with confirmed cases,”.

The minister urged all health workers and members of the public to remain vigilant and provide any information on the following telephone numbers: National Surveillance Unit 0722 331 548; 020 204 0542 and 2718292 e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]; NIC-Kemri laboratory: 0736 155 251; 0733 616 602 and 0722 675 335 or Jomo Kenyatta International Airport 0721 562 511.

Last week, the World Health Organisation was expected to declare a global influenza pandemic after a spike in H1N1 cases in Australia.

Five people had been admitted to intensive care and 1,263 cases of “swine flu” recorded in Australia.

Australian authorities later defended their handling of the flu virus, saying the high number of cases was a result of widespread testing.

“We have tested 5,500 people in the last two weeks, that is more people than we test in our whole (normal) influenza season,” said Victorian state premier John Brumby.

“Elsewhere around the world, in the US and Canada, they are only testing the most serious cases,” said Mr Brumby.

There have been 27,737 cases reported in 74 countries to date, including 141 deaths, according to the WHO’s latest tally.

Confirmed community spread in a second region beyond North America would trigger moving to phase 6 -- signifying a full-blown pandemic -- from the current phase 5 on the WHO’s 6-level pandemic alert scale.

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