Kenya scales up scrutiny over swine flu fears

April 28, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 28 – The government has scaled up surveillance at all entry points to ensure the swine flu virus stays out of Kenya.

Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo said on Tuesday that medical personnel would diligently screen passengers travelling into the country for signs of infection.

She stated that 26 influenza sentinel surveillance sites had been upgraded to detect any occurrence of illnesses related to the virus.

“Health workers will screen all travellers originating from countries which will have been confirmed to have swine flu,” the Minister asserted.

Mrs Mugo said that over the last three years, 10,000 samples of throat swabs from across the country had been collected and tested and no bird or swine flu cases have been detected.

“We have enhanced surveillance of flu-like illnesses throughout the country in all our health institutions,” she revealed.

The Public Health Minister advised Kenyans meanwhile to observe a high level of hygiene to prevent viral infection.

“There is currently no vaccine available to protect against swine flu. However, observation of basic hygiene practices which my ministry has been emphasising in prevention of other communicable diseases will help in prevention of this disease,” she said.

“This includes washing of hands with soap and water especially after you cough or sneeze.”

Mrs Mugo emphasised the need to cover one’s nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing, and stressed the need to properly cook pork and pork products to ensure that no diseases are transmitted.

The swine flu is believed to be caused by a mutated H5N1 strain virus subtype, which also causes bird flu.

The new form contains DNA sequences from human and avian influenza viruses, as well as from other strains of swine influenza.

The infection progresses rapidly. In those most severely affected in the Mexican outbreak, potentially fatal respiratory problems developed after less than a week of coughing, aches and fever.

In Mexico, the death rate is unusually high among those who develop respiratory distress.

Reports suggest that one possibility is that the virus mutated to a less dangerous form around the time it showed up in the United States. Another possibility is that the severe illness linked to swine flu in Mexico was the result of viral mutations that haven’t yet appeared in other countries, but possibly will in time.

Efforts to understand and contain swine flu are underway on a global scale, even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that it could no longer be contained.

Reports said WHO had cautioned that the virus was now too "widespread to make containment a feasible strategy” and that the UN health agency did not recommend closing borders or restricting travel.

The WHO said research since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 in Asia had shown that border controls were of little use in halting the spread of such a virus.

"Border controls do not work. Screening doesn’t work," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in Geneva.

"If a person has been exposed or infected… the person might not be symptomatic at the airport," he said. "We learn as we go on. SARS was a huge learning experience for all of us."

In Kenya, Mrs Mugo stated that the current outbreak of swine flu was transmitted from human to human through coughing, sneezing and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.
She however gave an assurance that there were sufficient drugs to treat any confirmed cases of swine flu.

She said that a multi sectoral task force comprising of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Centre For Disease Control (CDC) and other ministries has been set up to minimise the impact of the threat locally.


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