Disturbing news from Kenya

Kenyan killer disease toll hits 350 as definitive diagnosis awaited

Copyright 1998 by Agence France-Presse ** via ClariNet ** / Mon, 12 Jan 1998 6:37:37 PST

	NAIROBI, Jan 12 (AFP) - A still mysterious illness in northeastern Kenya
claimed 21 more lives at the weekend, bringing the death toll to more than
350 in the past month, the Kenyan press reported Monday.
	The disease is also slaying hundreds of animals -- and hyenas and other
scavengers are leaving the carcasses alone. A latest, but tentative,
diagnosis indicates that the killer is Rift Valley fever, a rare virus.
	A painful death follows diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding from all orifices
in both human beings and livestock.
	No definitive cure has yet been pinpointed, but authorities are advising
people to avoid handling, slaughtering or eating ailing animals --
difficult instructions for a farmer to follow. They are also being told to
boil milk before drinking it.
	The disease, which has led to various tests ruling out some possible
ailments, comes amid flooding in the normally arid region as torrential
rains attributed to the El Nino weather phenomenon pound east Africa.
	The rains have been continuing for an unprecedent three months, and
malaria has become epidemic because of the resulting floods, with tens of
millions of mosquitoes breeding.
	East Africa is also in the grip of a cholera epidemic which has killed
more than 3,000 people in the past year, some 600 of them in Kenya alone
since June.
	Authorities at first feared the disease might be Ebola, an untreatable
virus thought to be transmitted by monkeys which kills 50 to 90 percent of
its victims. More than 200 people died of Ebola in the then Zaire in 1995,
and some 50 in Gabon in 1996-97, but the US journal Nature Medicine
reported last month that an experimental vaccine against Ebola had produced
promising results.
	But tests ruled Ebola out, at which point health authorities announced
that the disease was severe malaria.
	Further tests ruled out malaria as well, whereupon authorities announced
the disease was probably anthrax, a fatal disease among cattle and sheep
which can be passed on to anyone handling them.
	But testing continued in a South African laboratory, and the US Center for
Disease Control and Prevention is also undertaking tests, Kenya's health
ministry said.
	The latest, though still uncertain, diagnosis is that the disease is the
rare Rift Valley fever, caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes from wild
animals to domestic livestock, and thence to human beings, during periods
of exceptionally heavy rain.
	It is not as deadly as Ebola, Marburg fever or yellow fever, according to
health ministry expert Maina Kahindo, but it killed some 600 people in
Kenya in 1977 out of 100,000 who contracted it.
	Many died within 24 hours of exhibiting symptoms, and the current epidemic
is exacerbated by a public nurses' strike, now in its sixth week, which has
virtually closed down all state hospitals in Kenya.
	Treatment, while awaiting a definitive diagnosis of the illness, is
confined to rehydration salts and fever-reducing drugs, Kahindo said.
	The disease is also killing people in Somalia, which adjoins northeastern
Kenya, but statistics in that lawless country are hard to come by.
	Colonel Nur Shirbow, the governor of Somali's southern Middle Shabelle
River region, told AFP by telephone on Monday that four people had died of
it there in the past week, and that another 59 had died of malaria.
	The environmental watchdog organisation Worldwatch has meanwhile urged
governments to monitor weather patterns to curb what it says is a worldwide
re-emergence of infectious diseases associated with changing climates, the
weekly East African reported Monday.
	The transmission of animal diseases to human beings is growing, Worldwatch


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