Kemri study to find out when Covid-19 got here

There are claims disease was already spreading in China months before it was first reported in December 2019

Studies by Kenyan scientists on Covid-19 will reveal exactly when the virus got into the country as claims emerge that the disease was spreading in China months before it was first reported on December 31, 2019.

While there is no clear information to ascertain when the Sars-CoV-2 got into Kenya, Dr Rashid Aman, Health Chief Administrative Secretary, said ongoing studies at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) will solve the puzzle.

The revelation by the CAS came on a day when Kenya recorded its highest number of recoveries yet, with 175 patients discharged in a day.

Aman, while issuing the daily Covid-19 status update, reported 105 new cases from 2,273 samples.

He said genetic sequencing of the virus extracted from the samples could have the answer.

By doing this, he added, it will be possible to trace back when the virus hit Kenya, now that 3,094 people have tested positive.

Kenya has conducted 102,696 tests. One more person succumbed to the disease, putting the deaths tally at 89.

In yesterday’s figures, Nairobi had 43 cases, Busia 18, Mombasa 11, Turkana 7, Migori 6, Kiambu 5, Kwale 5, Kilifi 3, Machakos 3, Taita Taveta 3, Kisumu 2, Garissa 1, Uasin Gishu 1, Siaya 1, Kajiado 1 and Garissa 1.

Yesterday, Aman said that from the strains of the viruses, genetic isolates can be extracted, which can be analysed for possible timings to know when the virus could have found its way into Kenya.

“If you find there are isolates which are similar to those which were circulating in Wuhan, China at the time the pandemic broke out, you can relate that to those in the community and develop relations which, are genetic trees that might answer this question,” he said.

Kenya reported its first case of Covid-19 on March 13, after which stringent measures, including suspension of international flights, were put in place.

All those who were evacuated were placed on mandatory quarantine and tested.

Despite these measures, Kenya is grappling with community spread which suggests the disease might have been circulating within way before the first patient, which was an imported case, was detected.

This is supported by a study by Harvard University released on Monday that claims the disease was first witnessed in August 2019 in Wuhan, China as per analysis of hospital traffic with the symptoms synonymous with Covid-19.

Already infected

The symptoms, which were mild to moderate, however did not raise an alarm among health authorities in the country and it is only when a severe case was detected later in the year that the world came to know of Covid-19.

With spread of the virus infiltrating the globe a month later, Aman said it is possible that some people who were already infected might have travelled out of China.

“We do know that Kemri has been doing part of this work (analysing the virus) in Kilifi. Let us wait and see. As the body of this work increases, we will get this answer,” he said.

Last week, Kemri released its first body of work on the virus circulating in Kenya, where scientists did successfully sequenced genomes of SARS-CoV-2 in 122 cases.

The report, deposited in the Gene Bank, indicated that there were at least nine separate strains of SARS-CoV-2 imported into Kenya as of April 30, 2020.

By then, the report shows, local transmission was already evident in Mombasa and Nairobi. Since the disease was first reported in Kenya, 1,048 people have recovered.

The high number of recovery does point to the asymptomatic nature of the disease, which is an interesting factor, considering the extent of local transmission now in 38 counties and that some of the strains of the virus circulating locally are imported.

Aman said up to 78 per cent of the cases in Kenya are either asymptomatic or present with mild symptoms.

And with hospital capacity already overwhelmed with cases, the government has resorted to home-based care approach, which is already in effect after the launch of guidelines on Monday.

“Some of these patients do not need to occupy hospital beds and it is the reason why we have looked at possibility of home-based care.

“The guidelines on home-based care we have put in place will still help us in eliminating the virus,” he said.

Kenya, as at yesterday, had 781 cases admitted across public and private hospitals. Seven of the cases are in critical condition, four are intubated and two are on ventilatory support.

“Over 85 per cent of our patients in the intensive care units do survive, which shows how effective our healthcare workers are,” Dr Mary Nandili, the Director Nursing Services, said.

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