Updated at 1435 EAT on 19th March 2022.
The government yesterday said its investigations confirmed that the spike in flu and cough cases in the country has been triggered by a more severe influenza virus type A.
Presenting a joint statement from the ministries of Health, and Education, Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the State Minister for Primary Education, said they confirmed the outbreak after analysing samples collected from 198 learners.
Ms Kaducu said the samples were collected following alerts from a school in Wakiso District on February 27, where the administrators were suspecting that the learners were suffering from Covid-19. Many schools across the country were also experiencing the same thing.
“In this school, oropharyngeal swabs were collected by the Ministry of Health officials from 198 individuals out of the total 439 students who had symptoms in this school. The samples were all tested for Covid-19 and all turned out to be negative for the virus,” Dr Kaducu said yesterday in Kampala.
She added: “Out of the 198 samples, 58 samples tested for influenza A, while two tested positive for Influenza B. The learners presented with fever, ranging from low grade to high-grade fevers. They presented with coughs, others had headaches, flu and joint pain.”
According to the statement, there were no symptoms such as loss of taste and loss of smell, no acute respiratory distress and no respiratory failure, which are indicative of Covid-19. The younger learners appeared to have a higher attack rate compared to the older learners.
“In most cases, the illness was mild and others were moderate with no signs of severe respiratory illness. It was further noted that the illness was self-limiting. This, therefore, confirmed the outbreak of influenza A in this setting, which we think is across the country,” Dr Kaducu said.
Dr Henry Kyobe, an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, said influenza is a flu virus that the country has been grappling with in the past.
“Influenza A is more aggressive than influenza B. But they run in clusters, mainly in congregate settings. More so in schools. The clinical outcomes are usually not bad. It is usually worse in much younger age groups –those two and five years, and much older age groups 65 and above,” he said.
Some health experts have also said the spike is a bit abnormal because children had reduced immunity as a result of prolonged lockdown which limited interaction and exposure to the viruses in the surrounding.
“Viral infections come in a wave and they spread widely because they are airborne. We are also thinking that because of the restriction of movement of people and isolation, the immunity of children could have gone down. These viral infections when you get it you develop immunity,” Dr Rosemary Byanyima, the acting director of Mulago Hospital, said.
However, Dr Kyobe said the country is not at the peak of the outbreak of Influenza A. This comes a day after Mulago Hospital management announced that the admissions of children due to respiratory problems have declined by almost half –from around 25 per day to 15 per day.
But some doctors at the outpatient department also said they were advising some parents to take their children to nearby hospitals because the ward is full. In the joint statement, the ministries appealed to school authorities to ensure there is strict adherence to preventive measures such as wearing of facemask, handwashing and avoiding crowing.
“We call upon authorities to ensure that children observe respiratory etiquette by covering their nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing. We urge administrators to ensure students are well hydrated by taking water or juice,” Dr Kaducu said.
Mr Ismael Mulindwa, the director of basic education, asked schools to introduce learning shifts to minimise crowding and in turn curb the spread of the influenza virus.
“We have already provided guidance to schools. We encourage schools to use labs as classes. Some schools are also studying under shades which should be encouraged,” he said.
The Health ministry said the virus has no cure but supportive treatment for fever, flu, and cough can fight it off.