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Big boost in detecting Zika virus in Kenya

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy ALLY JAMAH | Sun,Feb 21 2016 21:09:21 EAT
By ALLY JAMAH | Sun,Feb 21 2016 21:09:21 EAT

 Consultant pathologists and CEO of Pathologists Lancet laboratories Dr Ahmed Kalebi

NAIROBI: Kenya's capacity to detect the dreaded Zika virus has received a big boost as jitters over the diseases spreads across the globe. 

Pathologists Lancet laboratories has become the second facility in the country able to carry out the advanced Zika virus tests after the Kenya Medical Research Institute, which is a government facility.

This development is expected to enhance the country's capacity to meet the threat of Zika virus that has been linked to cases of serious brain defects in new-born babies and a rare disease that causes body paralysis.

Lancet Kenya is the largest medical laboratory service provider in the region and is headquartered in South Africa.

This comes as the number of countries in Africa that have reported cases of Zika virus increased to two— South Africa and Cape Verde.

On Saturday, South Africa recorded its first case of the virus and there are increasing fears that more cases could surface in other parts of the continent, including Kenya.

Lancet's Consultant Pathologist and CEO Dr Ahmed Kalebi said that the PCR test confirms presence of active Zika viral infection, and is only recommended for people who have returned from areas affected by Zika virus within the past two weeks.

Dr Kalebi, who is also an Honorary Lecturer in the University of Nairobi, said that Zika virus diagnosis can only be confirmed by laboratory testing of blood or other body fluids, such as urine or saliva.

"The person should also be currently having symptoms suggestive of Zika infection including fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, body rashes among others. The test is not for everyone," he said.

He added: "Diagnosis of Zika virus requires special care since the disease can easily be mistaken with Dengue fever and yellow fever or Chikuyunga. These viruses all belong to the same family and are difficult to distinguish in traditional laboratory antibody tests because of their relatedness."

The PCR test detects genetic material of the virus that is present with active infection unlike other tests that detect antibodies to indicate past infection. It takes 2 to three days to get results.

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In its latest response plan to Zika, the World Health Organisation called on countries to strengthen the capacity of laboratories to detect the virus in a bid to enhance the war on the epidemic.

"To ensure that countries have access to laboratory testing for Zika virus infection, WHO will work with partners to map existing testing capacity, identify gaps, and develop plans to ensure access to appropriate laboratory testing," said  WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.

She added: "WHO will also work with partners to monitor and track the development and availability of commercial diagnostic tests, and update and align diagnostic guidelines with new information. WHO is also in the process of making available tests that are able to detect evidence of past infection of Zika virus."

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