Some 50 students of Chianda High school, in Siaya County recently developed some symptoms, which are similar to those Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome SARS.
When the students were taken to Madiany sub county hospital they were tested and found to be suffering from human influenza commonly known as flu.
This confirmed the a survey and research done by the Kenya Medical Research Institute KEMRI in 2002 that influenza viruses are present in Kenya throughout the year but usually pick up during the cold weather of July.
The KEMRI survey was conducted under National Influenza Surveillance Network and was coordinated by Dr. Evans Amukoye, the lead researcher and the director respiratory diseases and research. Now cold weather is back and has come with many communicable diseases, flu is among them, Due to this cold weather people have started using handkerchiefs to get rid of running or blocked nostril.
“This cold weather will also result in more sore throats, coughs, aches, pains, tiredness and headaches. When people get these symptoms they usually wrongly diagnose themselves as having malaria and buy anti malarial drugs without consulting their doctors”, observes Amukoye.
The symptoms associate mostly with flu. Most people mistake flu with common cold. They are not the same. According to medical experts flu is a serious disease and highly contagious that can attack respiratory system and develop into pneumonia and cause death. And no amount of antibiotics will help in the treatment of flu. So the best option is prevention through vaccination, advises Amukoye.
There are two main types of the flu virus: Types A and B. These routinely spread amongst humans, causing the seasonal flu epidemics every year.
For example bird flu also known as avian flu, mostly affects birds, especially the wild aquatic variety. When these birds come into contact with domestic poultry, the infection can cross over and infect them and also infects human beings. Swine flu mainly affects pigs. Both strains do not normally infect humans.
However, sporadic human infections have occurred and at times have been proved to be deadly. Like the last pandemic was caused by swine flu H1N1. It must be remembered that both bird and swine flu kills human beings.
Since the outbreak of swine flu pandemic the World Health Organization recommended that all seasonal human flu vaccines be formulated to also prevent H1N1, swine flu strain. Human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) virus with a high death rate have been reported worldwide since mid 2003.
The spread of avian influenza viruses from person to person is not common. However, because the viruses have the potential to change and gain the ability to spread easily between people, monitoring human infection and person -to-person spread is extremely important for public health. And, this is where seasonal flu vaccines come in handy. The vaccines have the potential to control the spread or the outbreak of flu pandemics.
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination and offer immunity for one year. These antibodies provide protection against infection through the viruses in the vaccine.
The WHO Global Influenza Surveillance Network monitors influenza viruses circulating in humans annually and recommends a vaccine composition that targets the three most representative virus strains in circulation.
Another expert Dr Mohan Lumba says every year a seasonal influenza vaccine based on the WHO recommendations is developed and released for use globally. Lumba adds that this is because influenza virus keeps on changing from time to time so the vaccine must be updated from time to time to combat the circulating strain. This means that the vaccines which were used last year technically expired this year. Vaccination is most effective when circulating viruses are well-matched with the latest vaccines.
“Everybody is at risk of flu infections. Even people who are young and healthy can get infected. But some people are more fragile and therefore more likely to get flu and develop complications”, says Amukoye during the launch of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine brand name Vaxigrip.
According to Dr. Paul Njoroge, the head of Sanofi Pasteur in English speaking African countries: those at risk of influenza are, young children 6 – 23 months of age, People over 65 and health care and child care personnel like nurses, nannies.
Also at risk are people who live in facilities – nursing homes or military barracks, people taking certain drugs, like those for cancer or HIV/AIDS that weaken the immune system.
Vaccination prevents flu-associated illnesses, absenteeism from work or school reduces the risk of transmitting flu to family members, friends or co-workers.
Flu vaccines are well tolerated, the most frequent associated reaction is mild soreness at the injection site. Getting vaccinated once every year will protect you and your loved ones from flu for the whole year’, concludes Njoroge.