, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 29 – Thirty-four British students including one who had tested positive for the H1N1 influenza virus have been quarantined in an isolated wing of a hotel in Kisumu for observation.
Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said on Monday that a team of doctors was closely monitoring a 20 year-old medical student who developed a headache and joint pains, becoming the first case of H1N1 influenza virus in Kenya.
Samples were tested at CDC Kemri and the National Influenza Centre, she said.
“We have embarked on tracing any contacts that the students have made while 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 Minister said.
The student is said to have presented himself to a health facility in Kisumu after his girlfriend called him from Nottingham, United Kingdom saying she had tested positive for the disease.
The British High Commission in Nairobi said on Monday that it had been in touch with the 34 UK nationals who were under quarantine.
Spokesperson Charley Williams told Capital News that they were in constant touch with the students and their tour leader after tests done on a 20-year old in the group turned positive.
The families of the students had been notified of the developments.
“We have been in touch with the students and they are getting all the assistance they need,” Ms Williams said on phone.
She said the students were being “monitored to isolate any possible spread of the virus.”
Media reports say the UK has at least 4,000 reported cases of the H1N1 influenza virus and is viewed as a high-risk area due to high human traffic through its busy airports.
The government has dispatched some doses of Tamiflu – a drug that is administered to suppress the flu – to Kisumu incase the student whose case had been classified as mild required them.
The Public Health Minister said Kenya has slightly more than 50,000 Tamiflu doses in the stockpiles, and they would be dispatched in accordance with emerging need.
“I know there are some doctors who have been calling asking whether they can buy them and I think from the Saturday scare in Sarit centre, Kenyans are panicking; we don’t need to do that,” said Mrs Mugo.
On Saturday a Kenyan girl who studies in Britain reported to hospital after saying that she had come into contact with someone who had been infected with the flu.
Her tests however turned negative.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tamiflu does not cure; it just reduces the severity of the disease thus managing it.
Currently there is no vaccine available to protect against the H1N1 influenza virus which was first reported in Mexico in April spreading fast to other parts of the world.
WHO has previously said it was in the process of producing a vaccine but it would take about six months from the time the first case was reported.
Following Monday’s confirmation, the government had now put in place a heightened alert for the flu.
The new strain 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 new strain, which is transmitted from human to human, has not circulated previously in humans. The virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another and from one country to another.
In mid this month, the WHO raised the Pandemic alert status from phase 5 to phase 6, which meant that the disease had reached the emergency level.
According to its website, by Friday, there were 59,814 confirmed cases of the swine flu around the world. 263 people have died of the disease.
Young people under the age of 25 years are the main casualties in all the countries.
A similar outbreak occurred in 1918 but was more severe than the current epidemic but the WHO warned that this may change hence the need for more vigilance.
Kenyans can get more information on the disease through the following contacts: 0722- 331 548,020-204 0542, 271 8292.