Three Covid-19 variants of concern have been detected in the country, says a top research organisation that has been conducting genome sequencing of the virus.
Except for the Brazilian variant, all the rest have been detected in the country, said Dr Samuel Oyola, a specialist in genomics and molecular biology at the International Livestock Research Institute (Ilri).
"We have detected the India variant, particularly in Kisumu, through genome sequencing and it is good for us to know so we can prepare. I am urging people in Nyanza to be extra vigilant because it spreads faster than the South African variant," he said.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe confirmed this, urging Kenyans to be extra vigilant. Ilri does genome surveillance for the ministry.
Variants are viruses that have changed or mutated and are common with coronaviruses. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a mutant becomes a variant of concern (VOC) when it has a clinical or public health significance that affects its spread, severity, effectiveness and testing.
There are four variants of concern declared by the WHO, with the latest being the B.1.617 that was first detected in India. It has been declared a variant of global concern by the WHO, along with the ones first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.
Other variants that have not been declared VOC are the Tanzanian variant B.1 and Ugandan variant A.23.1.
The coronavirus variant first detected in India has been officially recorded in 53 territories, a WHO report showed on Wednesday. It is considered to spread faster than the UK variant by at least 30 to 50 per cent and it is twice as fast as the original Wuhan virus.
The Indian variant is considered to spread faster than any other VOC, with India reporting the highest number of new cases in the past seven days at 1,846,055.
Dr Andrew Suleh, a consultant physician, renal, and tropical medicine specialist, said that mitigations that used to slow down the virus may not be enough with a faster transmitting virus.
Surge in numbers
"It is not a coincidence that after reports of the India variant was detected in Kisumu there was a surge in numbers. And not just in Kisumu, but also neighbouring counties," he said.
Dr Ahmed Kalebi, a consultant pathologist, reckons that the Brazilian variant may not be detected yet because Kenya does not have a lot of people travelling from there. However, it should not be ruled out.
He explained that there is no scientific evidence that one variant is more lethal than the other, however, a more infectious variant will likely infect more people, hence more will get seriously ill and even die.
The variants are also affecting younger people more than the Wuhan variant and since they tend to interact more, the likelihood of it spreading faster is also high.
"Emerging variants are likely to be more transmissible, more pathogenic, and more likely to escape natural immunity or vaccine immunity," he said.