Ebola in Kenya

There was a major scare at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Wednesday night after reports suggested a passenger on a plane from Democratic Republic of Congo had symptoms of Ebola.

The Kenya Airways Flight 550 from Lubumbashi landed at JKIA at 6.45pm, causing panic.

The flight crew had alerted Ministry of Health officials about the male passenger who had vomited in the aircraft while mid-air.

Emergency teams comprising Ebola experts were immediately scrambled to receive the aircraft.

However last night, Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the director of medical services, said tests on the suspected case did not confirm Ebola.

Muraguri said tests had showed that the man had suffered from food poisoning and an analysis of the vomit had confirmed “he did not fit the profile of somebody suspected of Ebola.”

Another source suggested that it could have been a case of air sickness.

“The other passengers went through the normal (medical) checks,” Muraguri said.

But The Standard established the passengers were yet to be released by 8pm after talking to some people who had gone to receive their visitors.

“I was informed the plane would land at 6.45pm. I have been here since but they have not come out,” one of the drivers dispatched by a city hotel to pick a client told The Standard at 8pm.

By the time of going to Press, emergency medical teams were still at the airport.

The Standard learnt that Kenya Airways crew first notified the Ministry of Health about the vomiting passenger.

It is a requirement that the flight crew report to relevant health authorities should they observe Ebola symptoms. Should there be suspicion about the disease, the plane is supposed to be grounded and disinfected as a precautionary measure.

Reports indicate that at least 1,552 have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria since the outbreak two months ago.

The deadly disease has reportedly killed 31 in northern Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said on Tuesday.

The World Health Organisation has warned that 20,000 people in West Africa face the risk of infection from the deadly disease.

Last month, WHO’s representative in Kenya Custodia Mandlhate had said the country had been classified at Category II because of the high number of air travellers between Nairobi and West Africa.

Nairobi serves 76 weekly flights to West Africa, greatly exposing Kenya to the possibility of an infected passenger entering into the country, officials had announced.

Category I (One) risk countries include those which directly share boundaries with the affected countries of Liberia, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leon and Nigeria.

The Government has purchased 5,000 protective gear for health and entry point workers who may come into contact with infected people.

So far, a 20-bed isolation unit has been set up at Kenyatta National Hospital. The capacity was to be scaled up and another similar unit set up at Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi.

Such units, the Government had announced, were also to be set up in Uasin Gishu, Busia, Kajiado, and Mombasa counties.

Some 100 health workers have been trained on how to handle Ebola patients and another 200 more will be trained in the next three weeks.

As fears mounted, Kenya Airways later suspended commercial flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone temporarily as Ebola spread in the region.

KQ suspended the flights to these locations after a situation risk assessment by Kenya’s Ministry of Health.