Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mistaken Identity

We had a population explosion yesterday when nine Maseno School students and one faculty member, all with similar symptoms, were admitted to the hospital. Some were "clinically febrile," with low-grade fevers. Most were suffering from headaches, "GBP" and "GBW" (generalized body pain and weakness), mild diarrhea and occasional coughs. Eight have recovered and will be discharged today; the ninth is on the mend.

It's a good thing, since 30 more sick students are currently lining the long portico of our beleaguered Outpatient Department and are sprawling onto the lawn. The hospital matron has phoned the district medical officer to report an "outbreak" of some kind. Fortunately, no one is seriously ill, and we are methodically working our way through diagnoses and symptomatic treatments. It could be anything from malaria to salmonella to shigella to a virus of some sort. "This is winter," said my friend Floice matter-of-factly. "We get sick in cold weather." The temperature recently dipped to 68F at night.

In the midst of it all, two doctors from Kisumu arrived to "investigate 20 (apparently healthy) new foreign visitors" reportedly at Maseno Hospital -- who are not. After some initial confusion, the doctors determined they were supposed to be investigating the "foreigners" down the road at Coptic Hospital -- not here. They went on their way after blandly suggesting, "It could be that your students have malaria." Ayup. But so far no malaria parasites have been seen in our lab samples.

I privately wondered, equally unhelpfully, if perhaps it could be swine flu hysteria (vs. H1N1 itself). Photocopied CDC pamphlets were dropped by helicopter last week and are fluttering about the countryside, listing the symptoms for every anxious child to imagine he has. Or could it be that the students' national exams will start on Monday? I know, I know; I sound like my/a mother... After last week, though, we are grateful that the "outbreak," whatever it may be, is thus far mild.

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