“We have epidemiological evidence of Zika virus infection having occurred in Kenya in the past based on the fact that various areas in Kenya have people with antibodies against the virus,” said Dr Ahmed Kalebi.
The acting Director of Medical services Dr Jackson Kioko has said that the government has put mechanisms to safeguard Kenyans from the Zika Virus that has been reported in many parts of Latin America.
Dr Kioko was speaking to journalists in Nairobi. He noted that the government has put the necessary resources in place to study and enhance surveillance of the trend of the virus and develop clear strategies to deal with the disease that has been linked to babies being born with brain defects (microcephaly).
The Acting director said that the country is aware of the reports about the virus in Latin America and South East Asia but “as a country we are determined to make sure that Kenyans are safe. What is more important for us is to ensure that the surveillance system is enhanced just as we did on Ebola Virus.”
He pointed out that the government will be releasing facts on the virus and embark on public awareness about the disease.
According to Dr Kioko, there are few chances of getting the virus in the country, even so, he indicated that the government is at the forefront to fight the diseases due to the fact that Kenya is a hub of travelling for people from different places across the world.
In a television interview, the head of disease surveillance and response unit, Ian Njeru said that the real concern over the virus is its connection to babies born with brain disorder which result to death in some cases.
He added that apart from very mild symptoms like fever, rash, red eyes and joint pains, four out five victims survive. He signaled that although there have been no reported cases in Kenya, he was concerned that doctors may be failing to detect the virus since its symptoms are almost similar to that of malaria and dengue fever.
Another expert argues that Kenyans may have developed some level of immunity against the virus.
Dr Ahmed Kalebi, an honorary lecturer at the University of Nairobi noted that the mosquito that is spreading the virus in other parts of the world is in Kenya and other African countries although there have not been major outbreaks of the virus in the country.
“We have epidemiological evidence of Zika virus infection having occurred in Kenya in the past based on the fact that various areas in Kenya have people with antibodies against the virus,” said Kalebi.
Dr Kalebi, attributed the absence of Zika virus outbreaks in Kenya to people having developed some form of immunity against the disease.
The populations in Latin America and other parts where the virus is “spreading explosively”, according to the WHO, are yet to develop the immunity as the virus has recently hit them.
On Monday the WHO declared Zika Virus an international public health emergency and called on people to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and protect themselves against mosquito bites.
“A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy” said Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO in a news gathering in Geneva.
Addressing CBS news and journalists, the Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, said that a vaccine could be ready for clinical trial as soon as this year. He however noted that it will likely take several years before the vaccine is ready for market.
Dr Fauci noted that through lessons learned when dealing with other mosquito-borne viruses, creating the Zika vaccine is getting “somewhere”.
“We are working on two potential vaccines, each based on earlier vaccines created in response to prior outbreaks of West Nile virus and dengue.
“It is to our advantage that we already have existing vaccine platforms to use as a sort of jumping-off point but it is important to understand that we will not have a widely available safe and effective Zika vaccine this year, and probably not even in the next few years,” said Dr Fauci.
Image Credit: Reuters/Ina Fassbender
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