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Kenya steps up surveillance amid Coronavirus fears

Wednesday January 22 2020
By ELIZABETH MERAB
By CLAIRE WASILWA

All passengers entering Kenya from China will undergo thorough screening for a new flu-like virus before being allowed into the country, the Ministry of Health has said.

Acting Director-General Patrick Amoth said the ministry was waiting for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide further guidance.

The international health agency’s emergency committee is expected to make a decision on whether it will categorise the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).

“We have sent an alert to all the 47 counties. We have also heightened surveillance at all points of entry and screening has started,” said Dr Amoth at the launch of the Kenya Harmonised Health Facility Assessment report.

BUSINESS RELATIONS

The country has vast business relations with China. At least three flights land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), where the country’s national carrier, Kenya Airways, operates two non-stop flights daily between Nairobi and Guangzhou.

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“For that reason, we have begun screening all passengers coming into the country from China,” Dr Amoth said. If travel inflows from the Asian country are anything to go by, Kenya is grossly exposed. The Coronavirus has put the world on high alert, with countries increasing fever checks at airports amid fears of a bigger outbreak.

Should the WHO declare the virus a global emergency, member states, including Kenya, will receive an interim response guideline, including how to screen for sick people, test samples, treat patients, control infections in health centres, maintain the right supplies, and communicate with the public.

Fears of a pandemic are growing globally as deaths rose to nine on Wednesday, with more than 470 confirmed cases.

The first case of infection has been reported in the United States after a man from Washington State returned home after a trip to Wuhan, China, on January 15, and sought medical attention on January 19. He is now in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Centre in Everett, Washington.

MUTATION

Chinese health authorities have warned people not to travel to the city of Wuhan amid concerns that the virus could mutate and spread further.

Officials are working on the assumption that the outbreak resulted from human exposure to wild animals being sold illegally at a food market in Wuhan, and the virus is mutating, Gao Fu, an academic of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control (CDC), told a news conference.

The Chinese strain suspected to have come from animals is depicted as a “cousin” of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus and a scientist who first decoded it thinks it started in an animal before being spread to humans.

The virus is reported to be a new strain of Coronavirus, which causes a type of pneumonia, and can pass from person to person, China confirmed.

Viruses can spread from human contact with animals. Scientists think the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) started in camels, according to WHO. With SARS, scientists suspected civet cats were to blame.

ANXIETIES

When it comes to human-to-human transmission of the viruses, it often happens when someone comes into contact with the infected person's secretions.

Depending on how virulent the virus is, a cough, sneeze or handshake could cause exposure. The virus can also be transmitted by touching something an infected person has touched and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Caregivers can sometimes be exposed by handling a patient's waste, according to the CDC.

Two other factors fuel the anxieties. The first is the Chinese lunar new year during which an estimated 400 million people in China travel home to celebrate with their families; and the second is China’s handling of the major outbreak of SARS in 2003.

To address the situation, several pharmaceutical giants and research institutes globally have begun working on drugs and vaccines.

The US National Institute of Health (NIH) announced on Tuesday that it is working on a vaccine. It would, however, take a few months until the first phase of the clinical trials get under way and more than a year before a vaccine might be available.

"The NIH is in the process of taking the first steps towards the development of a vaccine," said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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