10 Diseases To Watch Out For In Kenya

A mother and child in the pediatric ward in Lodwar District Hospital are seen by a nurse. The hospital was refurbished with support from the UK, and UK aid is also helping UNICEF to supply treatment for children suffering from acute malnutrition. Picture: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development

Diseases come and diseases go…rather like fashions, but with diseases it’s the general conditions prevailing at the time that denotes what gets a foothold and what doesn’t. Many diseases are opportunists, they will surface at a time the conditions are right for them to flourish and most often this is at a time when humans really could do with concentrating on other stuff…which is most of the time. With high heat and moisture, and a large population who do not have access to sanitation and running water Africa in general presents a very attractive cooking pot for disease.

Everyone knows the ‘rules’ about mossie repellants and bed nets but are you aware that you become immune to the pain and itch of mosquito bites if you have enough of them?

This is the point when you are more likely to contract a mosquito borne disease, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are no longer getting bitten. YOU ARE. You just don’t swell and itch anymore. This is why so many Africans die of malaria and other mosquito borne illnesses every year. They have no idea they have been bitten and by the time the disease manifests itself it’s often too late, particularly for children and those people who are debilitated by other conditions.

ALWAYS use bed nets. ALWAYS use Mosquito repellant.

Not all diseases are spread by mosquitoes, contaminated food and drink accounts for a huge amount of illness in Kenya. Here’s a short list of conditions you should be aware of. Click the link to find out the details of each disease.

1. Typhus: Typhus is spread by the body louse, it’s all around us, prevalent among the homeless and those living in unsanitary overcrowded conditions. The only reason we are not all infected with it is our ability to launder our clothes and shower/bathe regularly. History teaches us that typhus loves downturns and has been shown to surge during and after every major crisis be it war, a stock market crash or a natural disaster.

2. Typhoid: Not to confused with typhus, typhoid is caused by the bacteria salmonella typhi and is spread by contaminated food and water. It spreads quickly in overcrowded and/or unsanitary conditions.

3. Chikungunya: Another mosquito borne nasty. Rarely fatal but very debilitating for a week or two but in some people chronic joint pain can persist for months.

4. Hantavirus: Hantavirus is caused by ingestion of dried mouse droppings that are commonly fund in sheds,cabins etc. It’s a serious disease that will kill if not treated promptly. In a situation where the mouse population can’t be controlled and contact with droppings is more frequent, cases of Hantavirus will rise.

5. Bubonic Plague: Plague has two forms, bubonic and pneumonic. Bubonic plague is often fatal if left untreated, pneumonic plague is almost always fatal if left untreated. Both are spread by the bite of a rat flea. As with hantavirus if rodents can’t be kept under control the disease will spread. It causes agonizing swellings, often in the groin or armpits that are full of pus and black in colour, hence being called the black death.

6. Leptospirosis: Sticking with rodents did you know they are incontinent? Everywhere the rodent goes it leaks urine and most rodents carry leptospirosis. It is very common after major freshwater floods as the rodents move to higher and drier ground and come into more contact with humans. treatable with antibiotics but often fatal if not anything that moves rodents nearer people or people nearer rodents will cause an uptick in cases.

7. Chagas Disease: Chagas is caused by the reduviid bug that lives in hardened mud, adobe walls and loose/dirt flooring. It’s endemic in parts of Africa,India and South America. It causes debilitating illness and can lead to lifelong medical problems if not treated early.

8. Food Poisoning: There are many forms of food poisoning, the most lethal of which is Listeria, though it’s closely followed by E.Coli 157. The incidence of food poisoning will rise almost immediately there’s a grid down situation. The lack of refrigeration coupled with the possibility of food not being cleaned or cooked properly will guarantee an uptick in these debilitating and often fatal conditions.

9. Cholera: Spread by ingestion of contaminated food or drink. Hand hygiene is critical especially among those preparing food. Flooding can increase the risk as sewage finds it’s way into clean water supplies.

10. Emerging Diseases: Many new diseases are emerging, or have emerged over the last few years. There is still a great deal to find out about the mode of transmission, susceptibility and pandemic potential of diseases such as MERS-nCV, H5N1 and H7N9 both forms of avian flu, and other zoonotic diseases that pose a threat to humans. Zika virus falls into this category. Scientists have within the last few weeks made a definite link between zika and microcephaly.

General precautions:

  1. Wash all fruit and vegetables throughly. If they are contaminated on the outside and you don’t wash them before preparing them you can not only contaminate your hands but the ‘inside’ of the food. This is disastrous if it happens to be a fruit or vegetable you are going to be eating raw.
  2. Get into the habit of not touching your mouth with you fingers in supermarkets, particularly in fresh food sections. You don’t have to own it to get diseases from it!
  3. Bearing in mind the above carry wet wipes and hand sanitiser and make sure children clean their hands on a regular basis.
  4. If you notice rodent droppings report it to your building manager immediately. Douse the droppings in bleach and leave them alone until maintenance decide what they are going to do about it.
  5. Keep the level of flies as low as possible they are fantastic disease carriers. Make a fly trap, sounds unsavoury but works brilliantly.
  • Make a hole in the top of a clean jam jar.
  • Rub a little raw meat on the inside of the lid and around the inside of the jar.
  • Leave the meat in the bottom of the jar and cover with an inch of water.
  • Screw on the lid and put out on the balcony or terrace.
  • Flies love it!!!
  • But they don’t plan ahead and have no idea they won’t be able to get out.

    Do the same using yeast, sugar and lukewarm water for a fantastic mossie   trap. The yeast and sugar give off carbon dioxide in much greater volumes than humans breathe out and this makes it a target for mosquitoes. Refresh every couple of days.

6. Use repellants, nets and plug-ins to deter mosquitos in the home. Use coils when dining al fresco.                                                                                 7. Keep a jug of boiled cooled water in the fridge to discourage kids from using the water from the tap. Nairobi water is considered safe but with the amount of floods that could introduce sewage into fresh water supplies it’s not something I am willing to risk.                                                                                     8. Wipe all fruit brought from vendors/shops that you want to eat before you get home. Use a wet wipe and then a second one before you tuck in.

There you go, a few things to look out for and a few ideas that may save you from a visit to the hospital.