Kenyans could be immune to Zika virus, says scholar

Kenyans may have developed some level of immunity against the Zika virus, a scholar has claimed.

The mosquito species that carry the Zika virus that is now an international emergency is widely found in Kenya and other African countries but there have not been major outbreaks of the disease in the country.

The same species of mosquito which transmits Zika virus is also linked to other diseases that have been common in the country in the recent years such as Rift Valley Fever, yellow fever, dengue fever and Chikungunya.

On Monday, WHO declared the mosquito-borne Zika virus an international public health emergency, but stopped short of calling for restrictions on international travel.

Dr Ahmed Kalebi, an honorary lecturer at the University of Nairobi, yesterday said the absence of Zika virus outbreaks in Kenya in the recent years in spite of the presence of the mosquito that carries the virus may mean that Kenyans have developed some level of immunity against the disease.

He added that the country has not yet seen significant prevalence of children being born with undeveloped heads and brain, a condition that is being linked to Zika virus. This condition, called microcephaly, has precipitated panic and fear across the globe.

However, the populations in Latin American countries, which are in the middle of an outbreak of the virus, do not yet have immunity against the disease since the mosquito only emerged in those areas recently.

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“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.

The head of disease surveillance and response unit Ian Njeru said in a TV interview that apart from the suspicion of causing microcephaly, Zika virus is not likely to kill, with its symptoms only being restricted to fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes but most people show no outward symptoms.

However, there are concerns that doctors in the country may be failing in diagnosing the disease since its symptoms are almost similar to that of malaria and dengue fever.

Indeed the first cases recorded in America had been misdiagnosed until a sharp doctor connected the dots. Currently, there are no reliable diagnostic tests for the killer virus.

WHO said last week the Zika virus was “spreading explosively” and could infect as many as four million people in America.

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zika virushealthWorld Health Organisation (WHO)