Government launches new guidelines to contain black fever

NAIROBI, 27 September 2012 (IRIN) - The Kenyan government has launched guidelines for the treatment and prevention of visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala azar or black fever, in a move government officials say is meant to contain the parasitic disease, which is endemic in the northern region of the country.

The new guidelines call for, among other things, the use of rapid diagnostic test kits, mobile test centres and the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets in areas where the disease is most prevalent. The treatment has also been reduced from a 30-day single-dose treatment to a 17-day double-dose injection.

“These guidelines will ensure that early diagnosis of kala azar is done so that those infected can get timely and effective treatment,” Shahnaz Sharif, the director of public health, told IRIN.

“The use of rapid diagnostic test kits, which have already been made available in the remote areas where the disease is most prevalent, will ensure as many people as possible are put on treatment,” he added.

Once it enters the body, the leishmaniasis parasite, which is carried by sandflies, migrates to internal organs and bone marrow. If an infection progresses and is left untreated, it almost always is fatal.

There are an estimated 5,000 cases of the disease in Kenya annually. Its common symptoms include persistent headache, swollen legs and night sweats.

Already, Sharif told IRIN, the government is distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets to the affected regions to prevent the disease.

“While timely treatment will ensure those infected cannot infect others, we are also giving nets as a way of keeping people free of the disease,” Sharif added.