A second study reports Zika virus in Kenya

By Gatonye Gathura

A second study this year has reported confirming a previous case of the deadly Zika virus in Kenya.

The new study by the University of Nairobi, and published on Tuesday (22nd October 2019) confirms previous circulation of Zika virus in the country.

In May 2019 another team of researchers, including from the Ministry of Health had reported detecting 34 incidents of Zika virus in West Pokot and Turkana counties.

“The presence of Zika virus-neutralizing antibodies in this population especially in the 13–19 age group shows that the viruses have recently been circulating in this region,” the researchers had reported.

However, the Cabinet Secretary for Health Sicily Kariuki had dismissed reports of the findings appearing in the local media.

“The scientists were not able to determine the active ongoing circulation of Zika virus in the population, but 34 were found to have had past exposure to Zika virus,” Kariuki said.

The new study published in the journal Transactions of The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene had tested 577 archived blood samples from Nairobi, Kisumu and Eldoret towns.

The study reports confirming one case of Zika from samples collected from the Lakeside region of Kisumu in Western Kenya.

“There was evidence of previous low exposure to Zika virus in the study population,” says the report.

Of the three regions in Kenya where blood for this study had been obtained, from 2009 to 2014, “Kisumu County had one case of previous exposure to Zika virus.”

The earlier study published in Virology Journal on 17th May 2019 had been carried out by researchers from the Ministry of Health, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenya Medical Research Institute and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

“The results in our study suggest the circulation of Zika in both counties, yet there have never been reported or confirmed cases of Zika in Kenya.”

They had proposed more surveillance especially among young children and pregnant women, “because Zika has been associated with congenital birth defects, in the developing foetus.”

The authors said the virus may have been circulating in the area for a long time unnoticed due to a lack of detection facilities.

“This calls for focused disease surveillance to forestall severe consequences of the virus in case of an outbreak,” they had suggested.

The virus was first identified in a rhesus monkey in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda. Coincidentally, the earlier Kenya study said the cases had been detected in an area called Kanyerus, West Pokot, which is very close to where the virus was first recorded in Uganda.

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