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Tests find no serious disease at Starehe Girls


Starehe Girls Centre students leave school compound after it was closed indefinitely after an outbreak of an unidentified disease which the Ministry is unable to detect on October 3, 2019. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

Tests on Starehe Girls’ students said to have been affected by “a mysterious disease” only found two cases of common cold.

Results of tests conducted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) from samples taken from 12 students did not show any highly contagious or deadly disease.

The results were released even as details emerged on why the school sent home all students except those in Form Four over what was termed mass hysteria.

The students are expected back in school on Monday.

A statement from the school on October 1, indicated that 52 students were under observation after developing “a high pitched coughing” that left them gasping for breath.

Apart from the so-called high pitched cough, the students were also reported to suffer from fever and continuous sneezing.

The most affected were in Form One, with about 40 students, and only four in Form Four. 

One student told The Standard the symptoms were exhibited by a Form Two student before it spread to Form One and the rest of the school.

A doctor privy to the matter said while the students exhibited signs of an infection, probably viral, only tests would show what was ailing them.

Experts from Kemri and Centre for Disease Control then took samples from 12 students and tested for, among others, influenza, whooping cough, and rhinovirus (common cold). Out of these, only two tested positive for a common cold.

Earlier message

“The tests turned out negative for any highly contagious or deadly disease,” an expert familiar with the report said.

But on Thursday morning, the students are said to have threatened to go on strike if their parents were not called in to pick them and take them for treatment.

The school administration caved in to pressure and sent phone messages to parents instructing them to pick their children from school.

One of the parents, who identified herself as Zainab, told The Standard the school had earlier sent a message indicating that the situation was under control.

She expressed surprise at the turn of events and wondered why the affected students could not be treated in school.

“We were told it was just flu. What kind of outbreak is this?” she said.

When The Standard contacted Jane Soita, the director of the school, she defended the decision to send the students home and denied that there was any outbreak at the institution.

“What the students need is rest,” she said.

Soita said the school consulted the Ministries of Education and Health before reaching the decision to allow Forms One, Two and Three students to go home.

“Form Four students will remain in school because of the upcoming examinations,” said Sr Soita.

Still, a number of parents and guardians did not seem to buy the explanation that their daughters needed to go home to rest.

“The argument does not add up. I was expecting them to tell us these are the tests we have conducted and these are the drugs we have given them. But that did not happen,” said Regina Akinyi, a guardian.

On their way home, the students also denied that they had been released to get rest.

“We have been told to go home and seek treatment then come back on Monday,” said one student.


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