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EAST AFRICA: H1N1 cases on the increase

NAIROBI, 1 October 2009 (IRIN) - There has been an increase in the number of pandemic HIN1 influenza cases being reported in the East African region, say medical officials. Some of the new cases have been recorded in schools.

"Some 350 H1N1 influenza cases have been confirmed in Kenya," Shahnaaz Sharif, the Director of Public Health, told IRIN, adding that the cases had been mild. "There may be more cases out there."

The first case in Kenya was that of a visiting British student on 29 June. So far, no deaths have been reported.

"The most affected are younger people between 14 and 26 years," Sharif said. Children, young adults and pregnant women, as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as asthma, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart and blood diseases, are at increased risk of severe and sometimes fatal illness.

Sharif said the affected schools in the Nairobi and Central regions had been provided with guidelines and other assistance on disease control.

H1N1 symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, cough, sore throat and muscle and joint pain. It is caused by a new influenza virus, which most people have no or little immunity against and could thus cause more infections than are seen with seasonal flu.

In Uganda, at least 33 H1N1 cases have been confirmed, mainly in the western district of Bushenyi. Health ministry spokesman Paul Kagwa told IRIN that nine seminarians at the Kitabi Catholic Seminary in Bushenyi had tested positive for H1N1 while another 300 people were undergoing treatment for flu-related symptoms.

"A team of experts is in the area to help fight the pandemic; fortunately we have not yet lost anybody," Kagwa said.

Sam Zaramba, the director-general of health services, told IRIN the health ministry was intensifying an awareness campaign because "the disease was quickly spreading in the country".

Uganda confirmed its first case of H1N1 on 2 July - of a British visitor to the country.

As of 28 September, 24 countries in Africa had officially reported 12,018 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H1N1, including 58 deaths, according to a UN World Health Organization (WHO) update. South Africa was leading with 11,253 cases and 47 deaths in the week ending 14 September - statistics are compiled weekly and there is also stronger surveillance in that country.

Tanzania had 143 cases and Ethiopia four.

Paul Garwood, a communications officer with WHO, told IRIN that control measures were ongoing. Vaccines would also be sent to developing countries.

Initially, an estimated 300 million doses of vaccine will be distributed to more than 90 countries, he said.

"Distribution of the first batches of donated vaccines is expected to begin in November," he said. "WHO continues to recommend that health workers be given high priority for early vaccination."

WHO, with the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent, the UN Children's Fund and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in August launched an initiative to reduce the threat posed by H1N1 in developing countries.

The initiative, which calls for the identification of populations at increased risk of disease and death, treating acute respiratory illness and pneumonia and continued critical services provision, among other measures, will initially be applied in Zimbabwe, borrowing on lessons learned there in the 2008-09 cholera outbreak that infected almost 100,000 people and killed 4,000.

As of 20 September, 300,000 H1N1 cases with 3,917 deaths had been confirmed in 191 countries and territories. "As more and more countries have stopped counting individual cases, particularly of milder illness, the case count is significantly lower than the [actual] number of cases that have occurred," noted WHO.

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