Parents whose babies have a cough and fever should immediately visit the nearest health facility, following an outbreak of Influenza that has killed 39 children under five in Nakuru and Baringo counties.
The Ministry of Health says that in less than a month since the first reported case (March 24), the infection has been reported in children under five who have fever and a cough that “does not respond to medication” followed by convulsion, coma and death.
“The cases are also responding poorly to antibiotics,” said a statement marked urgent by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu.
He asked parents not to be complacent when they notice high temperature in their children.
“When they get a fever, people watch and delay seeking medical attention and then the child becomes dehydrated, slips into a coma, and this is a bit too late.”
Dr Mailu said Influenza is not a rare disease, but it should not be confused with the common cold.
He said that while both are viral infections, the Influenza outbreak is caused by virus type A and B which cause pneumonia like infections.
The disease, with 296 reported cases, is spread when droplets from the mouth of an infected person are released during coughing, sneezing or talking to an uninfected person.
It is characterised by sudden onset of high fever, aching muscles, headache and severe sickness, non-productive cough, and sore throat. In the very young, it can lead to pneumonia and death. It affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and, occasionally, lungs.
Dr Mailu added: “Blood samples and nasopharyngeal (secretions from the uppermost part of the throat, behind the nose) samples have been taken and sent to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) National Influenza Sentinel laboratory in Nairobi for further testing to determine the cause.”
He said the ministry had also alerted all county health workers to detect new cases promptly.
Preliminary results from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) released on Monday indicated that the children who went to hospital displaying flu-like symptoms could have been infected with influenza, a viral infection that attacks a person’s respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs).
The two county hospitals last week sent a second set of samples to the research centre for testing after the first test turned out negative for suspected pneumonia.
“Initial tests from the main influenza laboratory showed the samples tested positive for influenza,” said Dr Rosemary Sang, the acting director of the Centre for Virus Research at Kemri.
But Dr Sang added the research institute was waiting for results from two other laboratories before giving a conclusive report.
“We usually like to compare the results before issuing a conclusive report. Therefore we have to wait for the confirmation results,” she said.
The research centre however did not say when the conclusive reports will be issued.
Initial deaths of 23 children below the age of one died within four weeks of onset of the illness to what had been suspected to be viral pneumonia.
Nakuru County Health executive Kabii Mungai said the children went to hospital with symptoms of high fever, cough and difficulty in breathing.
While some had symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting, which laboratory results conducted by the hospital indicated was likely to be viral pneumonia.
But the first samples sent to Kemri ruled out pneumonia, throwing the medical personnel and parents into anxiety as they could not tell what they were treating.
“Kemri had confirmed that this is not pneumonia as we suspected and we have embarked on more tests,” said Dr Mungai, something which prompted for a second test on fresh samples from post-mortem performed on the dead children.
Tuesday, Dr Mungai said two isolation wards had been set up at Nakuru’s Provincial General Hospital and medics put on high alert to detect symptoms and handle cases of the outbreak of the disease that is unfortunately spreading fast.
He was however reluctant to disclose the number of deaths, even as source disclosed the figure could be more than was reported.
“The most affected areas are in Nakuru County, although we have received a few cases from the neighbouring Baringo,” he said.