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Jab to beat diarrhoeal diseases

By Ayoki Onyango | Jun 15th 2016 | 3 min read

NAIROBI: Unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change, which have resulted in the current rainfalls and floods, have also led to an increase of diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Since December 2014 when a cholera outbreak was reported in Nairobi County, there have been reported outbreaks across 30 of the country’s 47 counties.

The most recent outbreak has been in Tana River and Mandera counties, where medics are working around the clock to save lives.

It is believed that, in Mandera County, 14 people have died between April and May this year and 894 cases have so far been reported.

Dr Mohan Lumba, Kenya Paediatric Research Consortium Chairman, says even though the disease can become endemic very fast, it is also east to treat and prevent.

“If you notice symptoms such as vomiting, severe and watery diarrhoea, stomach cramps and dehydration seek immediate medical help,” he says.

Medics says cholera is spread through food but mainly through water that has been contaminated with the stool of an infected person. So, when it rains and floods, this waterborne disease can spread like wild fire especially in regions that have poor sanitation.

According to Dr Lumba, while antibiotics can be administered to the afflicted, prevention through vaccination is a better option since it helps to control spread of the disease.

On the other hand, when it comes to typhoid — symptoms are pretty much the same as cholera’s, but in addition a person will also have an exceptionally high fever.

Records from the Ministry of Health and Kemri show that typhoid infects between seven to ten per cent of the population. It also kills a significant number of its victims if prevention and prompt treatment is not undertaken in time.

Dr Charles Chunge, Chairman of Centre for Tropical and Travel Diseases, says typhoid — which is spread through eating and drinking contaminated food items — kills about 30,000 people annually.

“The highest risk group are food handlers at kiosks, restaurants and hotels, slums dwellers, beach settlers, fishermen and school children. Also those whose immune systems have been compromised by viral and chronic diseases such as HIV/Aids and diabetes,” he said.

Dr Chunge, who is also head of Typhoid Advisory Committee, says school children are at risk because they eat anything they come across including soil and chalk while food handlers are exposed to contaminated food products and containers.

“Once food handlers are infected, they easily infect or transmit the disease to their hotel customers or clients. To reduce incidences of the disease, minimise infection rates and deaths from typhoid, all risk groups need to be vaccinated,” Dr Chunge said.

He continued: “It will cost you about Sh700 to get the typhoid jab while treatment with effective antibiotic drugs will cost you Sh10,000”.

While typhoid vaccines have been in existence for a long time, the cholera vaccine is a relatively new entrant into the market.

To contain these two illnesses, Dr Lumba asks Government to organise and vaccine those at risk but do not have access such as prisoners and those at refugee camps.

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