, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 23 – Heads of Secondary Schools in Nairobi on Wednesday held an emergency meeting with Ministry of Health officials following an outbreak of the highly contagious AH1N1 influenza virus in institutions of learning.
Provincial Director of Education Mary Omondi said although the situation was contained, there was need to sensitise school heads on how to detect and manage the condition should it arise in more schools.
“It is good to have people managed where they are because if they continue mixing with others then that is a clear chance of the disease spreading to other people. So avoid having children going for half term, visiting days and let them be managed where they are – in the schools,” she said.
She particularly took cognizance of the fact that schools were entering the examinations period: “That is why we want to allay the fears.”
Provincial Director of Public Health Dr Samuel Ochola said there was no need to test an entire school for the influenza virus commonly referred to as swine flu.
“So we are waiting for people who have signs and symptoms to test. That is enough to guide us for further management of those cases,” Dr Ochola assured.
“If you test an entire school and you find that majority of them are negative today it might give you a false sense of security,” he said.
Dr Ochola said that there would be specific measures taken in boarding schools and others in day schools to prevent further spread of the virus.
He said there would be no need to close the boarding schools but teachers had to be vigilant to pick out signs and symptoms, report them to the Ministry so that they could be tested and quarantined if they tested positive to the AH1N1 flu.
“For day schools, children who display the signs should self quarantine at home for the period they are sick and the family should keep social distance to avoid transmission,” he said.
The Kenya High School was the first to confirm 25 cases of the swine flu last week which later rose to 36 and since then more schools across the country have recorded cases.
The meeting of school heads came as it emerged that some institutions were sending students to the Kenyatta National Hospital for testing.
“We have received about 11 students from two secondary schools in Nairobi who say they were sent by the school and told to go with a certificate of test,” Chief Public Relations Officer Simon Ithai told Capital News.
When contacted by Capital News, Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Shariff said this should not be the case and the issue had been handled with the respective school heads.
“I think there was a miscommunication where the wrong information was given that students should be tested,” he said.
Currently there are 191 confirmed cases countrywide with 132 of them reported in Nairobi.
In its website, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued advice on measures that could be undertaken in schools to reduce the impact of the AH1N1 influenza pandemic.
The International health body recommended that students, teachers and other staff who felt unwell should stay at home and plans should be in place and space available to isolate students and staff who became ill while at school.
WHO further recommended that the timing of school closure was critically important and said that studies suggested it had greatest impact when they were closed very early in an outbreak, ideally before one percent of the population fell ill.
“Under ideal conditions, school closure can reduce the demand for health care by an estimated 30–50 percent at the peak of the pandemic,” the statement read in part.
“However, if schools close too late in the course of a community-wide outbreak, the resulting reduction in transmission is likely to be very limited,” it further stated.
The statement said recommendations were drawn on recent experiences in several countries as well as studies of the health, economic, and social consequences of school closures undertaken by members of a WHO informal network for mathematical modelling of the pandemic.
The first cases of the AH1N1 influenza virus that involved Kenyans were reported in June.
This was after a student from the United Kingdom who was among 33 other British students tested positive to the flu. He and his colleagues were quarantined for six days in a Kisumu hotel.