A strange disease is infecting children across Tanzania and medical experts say the malady is some form of influenza.
For the past three weeks or so, children in various parts of the country were developing some form of fever, coughs, body aches, running noses and insomnia at night.
The team of experts tasked by the Ministry of Health a week ago to investigate an outbreak of flu in Dar es Salaam have detected Influenza Type ‘A’ virus in 13 percent of the samples taken from children who had symptoms of fever, cough, flu, chest tightness and body aches.
Influenza ‘A’ viruses have the potential to cause flu pandemics due to their ability to spread efficiently among people. Children infected with the virus can suffer bouts of flu for about a week, according to doctors. The flu can be severe and lead to serious complications such as pneumonia.
According to the Ministry of Health, the virus is common in Tanzania, with public health records showing that its prevalence ranges between 5 percent and 6 percent.
However, recent laboratory tests performed on 123 samples collected from children aged below 12 years in various city health facilities have confirmed presence of Influenza ‘A’ virus in 16 samples which the Ministry of Health says “is 13 percent higher than the usual prevalence of 5 percent to 6 percent.”
“This level is likely to be the reason for the increase in the number of people, especially children with symptoms [reported] in health care facilities, mainly in the Dar es Salaam Region,’’ said the Chief Medical Officer Prof Aifello Sichalwe in a statement on March 30.
Scientists from the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (CUHAS) have recommended rapid testing in children found to have flu symptoms to avoid misuse of antibiotics leading to antibiotic resistance.
A team of government experts earlier conducted an investigation in 14 regions in 18 hospitals across the country, and detected Influenza ‘A’ virus in 3 percent of the 1,843 samples tested for the period from 12 December 2021 to 13 March 2022.
There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Human influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics.
Type A of this virus has been linked to reported cases of pneumonia and common cold in recent months across the country. But the lab tests, according to Prof Sichalwe, ruled out COVID-19 infections.
“The Ministry continues to monitor COVID-19 variants to identify if there is any new variety of the virus in country other than Omicron,’’ said Prof Sichalwe.
The government says it has been monitoring seasonal flu outbreaks for the past three consecutive years, with data indicating that for the year 2019/2020 there were over 9.8 million patients; in 2020/2021 there were 8.5 million patients and in 2021/2022 the number has dropped down to 3.3 million patients.