Doctors warn of fresh virus variant as cases hit new high

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021 10:14 | By

Doctors have raised a red flag over the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus in the country with peculiar symptoms different from the previous one.

With new infections on a sharp rise, medics are also warning that the country could be facing a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has so far caused close to 2,000 deaths and crippled the economy, resulting in massive job losses.

The new variant, doctors say, exhibits strange symptoms among them aches and pain in the chest, discolouration of toes and fingers, skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Its symptoms are different from high fever, dry cough, loss of taste and smell, sore throat and tiredness which were the most common symptoms associated with the virus. The latest development has triggered apprehension among medical practitioners and the population.

“The new variant seems to be more contagious and delicate to handle. We still don’t known how the latest mutation would affect the effectiveness of the current vaccines,” a top scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, told People Daily.

In January, Kemri had warned that a distinct variant of the coronavirus, entirely different from those detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, was circulating in the country.

In the last two weeks, the country has registered higher numbers of Covid-19 infections in what doctors say could be due to a third wave of the virus. The new infections, they say, are now presenting distinct symptoms away from the usual ones with medics putting hospitals on high alert.

Dr Andrew Gachie, the Chief Medical Director at Nairobi West Hospital says patients with new infections are presenting themselves in hospital with zero fever conditions.

He, however, said that most patients have been thronging hospitals at a stage when they desperately need intensive care services. “Majority of the patients are coming with difficulties in breathing but without any fever.

However, at the time of admission, most of them are forced to seek intensive care services due to challenges in breathing,” said Dr Gachie.

Dr Loise Ombajo, an infectious disease specialist at Kenyatta National Hospital, says that while researchers and doctors have better grasped the management of the disease since it was first reported, there is still much to learn as the virus continues spreading and mutating, presenting itself in unexpected ways.

“We have had various variants only that they were not of concern. Whether specific variants lead to different sets of symptoms is a matter that should be subjected to further study,” said Ombajo.

Medics say that Covid-19 seemed to have declined significantly by mid-February as Kenyans adhered to containment measures stipulated by the government but the situation has since changed with most counties now recording higher infections every day since the beginning of March.

“By mid-February, our wards were literally empty. In fact, we had only two patients who were critical in our ICU. The numbers have, however, gone up since the end of February and as we speak now, we have a total of 38 patients who have been admitted in the last two to three weeks,” noted Gachie.

Dropping guard Even as the country grapples with the new variant, doctors warn that continued slackening of containment measures could see a further rise in infections resulting in a crisis that could see counties struggle to handle the cases.

“We need to be very cautious about this virus because we are yet to get out of the woods,” added Gachie.

In Kiambu County, for instance, higher cases are being reported every day for the last two weeks as most residents seem to have resumed normalcy with wearing of masks, social distancing and regular washing of hands now being overlooked.

Joseph Murega, the County Health Executive, has warned that the vast county could be battling a third wave of the virus as it has continued to register increased cases, with its total tally now nearing 7,000.

Murega has consequently cautioned residents against relaxing the containment measures imposed by the government, saying that while the newly arrived vaccines would help reduce the viral load, it is not a guarantee that its recipients cannot infect or get infected by the same.

“This is a novel virus and we do not know how it can change or behave thereafter. We started with one but now there are many variants and all of them come with different ways of attacking our bodies. We must thereby continue to be vigilant by observing all the containment measures as stipulated by the Ministry of Health,” he said.

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