Kenya is on a high health alert after the deadly avian influenza was detected in dead birds in Uganda at the weekend.
An official at the Ministry of Health, who is not authorised to speak to the media, confirmed on Monday that an “outbreak preparedness task force” had been activated.
This team, which has networks across the country, will beef up surveillance at entry points, such as airports and the Busia and Namanga border points.
It will also be involved in a sensitisation campaign to the larger population with information such as warnings against coming into contact with or eating sick or dead birds.
The source said Kenya is awaiting further details from Uganda — such as how many cases have been reported in humans so far — after confirming the avian flu (H5N1) through multiple tests at both agricultural and human health laboratories.
Kenya can detect and confirm the viral infection through the National Influenza Centre laboratory in Nairobi.
Rosemary Sang, a virologist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, said while Kenya should be worried about an outbreak across its borders, there was no need for panic.
Avian flu is an infectious disease from birds and is caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. It can be transmitted to human beings, causing severe respiratory infections.
The flu is characterised by a sudden onset of high fever, aching muscles, headache, severe sickness, non-productive cough and a sore throat within two to five days and up to 17 days of infection.
In the very young, it can lead to pneumonia and death. It affects mainly the nose, throat, bronchi and occasionally the lungs. It is treatable with an antiviral drug called Tamiflu.
The Uganda government on Sunday activated its emergency plan for epidemics control after confirming one strain of the disease — one of three types that affect humans, animals and birds, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Humans contract the disease through close contact with infected poultry or with objects contaminated by their faecal matter, according to the organisation.
Vincent Ssempijja, the Ugandan agriculture minister, said specimens taken from white-winged birds that died en masse on Lake Victoria shores in Lutembe, Wakiso District, “unfortunately have turned positive [for] the very serious disease; the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)”.
His permanent secretary, Diana Atwine, said there had been massive deaths of migratory birds at the Lutembe beach due to avian flu and additional cases had been detected 10 days later in ducks and chickens in Masaka District.
“There is a danger, although it isn’t a big risk, that if the disease crosses to human beings, it will give us a big headache,” she said.
Experts from Uganda’s health ministry headquarters are due to visit the affected areas to assess the extent and impact of the outbreak and work on ways to contain the spread.
Robert Sserwanga, a member of the Association of Uganda Poultry Industry, said the disease was in a central region that is home to over nine million commercial birds.
“An outbreak of a viral disease means massive depopulation of birds,” he said.
He urged farmers not to confuse the outbreak with other common poultry diseases such as New Castle, which carries similar symptoms.