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Malaria or dengue fever?

Dengue fever is on the rise in Kenya. Also known as breakbone fever, dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes and is caused by the dengue virus that causes flu-like illness.

The last time an outbreak of a major proportion was reported in Kenya was in September 2011 where at least 5,000 people in Mandera were affected in a matter of weeks.

Another outbreak but one with low casualty count occurred in March last year in Mombasa. At least 120 people were affected. Dr Nzyoki Mulovi talked to NairobiNews about the disease and its effect on Kenya.

“Dengue is not a condition that we typically see in day to day practice. Personally I have never seen a case. Apart from the reports of the outbreaks, there are no statistics (this is typical of most conditions in Kenya and the rest of Africa).”

Internationally, cases of dengue have actually increased. The World Health Organisation estimates that 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk and there are approximately 100 million infections.

Dengue fever is one of the health concerns raised by FIFA ahead of the World Cup next month.

Affect lives

This disease has affected the lives of many civilians and scientists have been working round the clock to find a cure.

In fact, late last year, it was announced that scientists in Australia who had been working on various clinical trials had finally found one that could cure the fever.

The drug is now available globally on an individual and commercial scale.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, headaches, muscle and joint pains, and a skin rash. They are similar to those of malaria hence the reason why it could be confused as such on first glance.

Dr Mulovi said the 2011 outbreak was initially mistaken for malaria and most of the early patients were started on antimalarial drugs but did not improve, showing one of the challenges Kenya faces in regards to accurate diagnosis.

Mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus differ from the anopheles mosquito in that they feed on their prey during the day as opposed to at night when one would normally be protected by mosquito nets.

Dengue fever though endemic in most parts of the country, has not been a considered a health threat.


A great number of measures have since been taken to control the spread of the disease and prevent further outbreaks.

They include sensitisation of health workers and community members through health education, active case search and vector control through spraying of homesteads of affected individuals, clearing of breeding sites and larviciding.

“There are no vaccines to prevent dengue fever. Prevention is often geared towards controlling mosquitoes which are the transmitting agent of the causative virus. So ensure that there is no stagnant water in puddles or containers. Clear bushes and long grass and during outbreaks spray insecticides to control mosquitoes,” concluded Dr Mulovi.