In March 12, 2020, Kenya confirmed what was believed to bethe first Covid-19 case in the country. As a result, the country went into lockdown, curfews were imposed and measures were put in place to contain the spread of the virus. Kenyans believed they had witnessed the first cases of a disease they had only heard about in other countries.
It is however now emerging that Brenda Cherutich and Brian Orinda, the people believed to have been the first to get infected in Kenya, might have not been the first.
According to researchers who tested antibodies on stored blood from Kisumu and Kericho, three adults from Western Kenya might have been the first to contract Covid-19.
The three adults; a 69 year old man, 47 year old woman and 46 year old man submitted their blood for testing in January 2020. All of them were asymptomatic, explaining why they could have gone undetected.
“If participants in our study did have an asymptomatic infection, then such cases could have contributed to early undetected spread of the pandemic in Kenya,” researchers who tested the blood said.
The researchers findings “SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Prevalence in People with and without HIV in Rural Western Kenya, January to March 2020” have been published in the Aids journal this September.
According t the researchers, the three adults come from a region where Chinese nationals had ongoing road projects between 2019 and 2020.
“Some of the earliest known cases of Covid-19 in Africa were imported by manufacturing workers who travelled from China to Egypt and it is possible that SARS-CoV-2 could have reached the otherwise remote region of our study similarly via construction workers,” they said.
582 people from Kericho and Kisumu donated their blood samples for testing between January and March 2020. Out of these, antibodies were detected in 19 samples. The three adults samples were the earliest, dating back to January 2020.
Antibodies in the blood demonstrate evidence of coronavirus infection and can be detected as early as two weeks after a person is first infected.
“These may represent cross-reactivity or asymptomatic infections that predated the first reported Covid-19 cases in Kenya,” the researchers said.
However, for absolute certainty, the researchers recommend more tests to distinguish antibodies that neutralize SARS-CoV-2 from antibodies that fight other coronaviruses, including some that cause the common cold.
They are Jonah Maswai, John Owuoth, Ibrahim Daud, Valentine Sing’oei and Fred Sawe from the Henry Jackson Foundation Medical Research International stations in Kericho and Kisumu.
Others are Trevor Crowell, Michelle Imbach, Nicole Dear, Leigh Anne Eller, Christina Polyak, and Julie Ake from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Maryland.
The blood samples were donated at Kericho District Hospital, AIC Litein Mission Hospital, Kapkatet District Hospital, Tenwek Mission Hospital, Kapsabet County Hospital, Nandi Hills County Hospital, and Kisumu West County Hospital.