Sometimes in April 2019, one patient after the other trooped to a hospital in Meru county. They suffered blisters. They did not cough or have chest discomfort. And they ate just right, without vomiting or diarrhoea.
The doctors were right to admit them. For as time passed, the blisters erupted into ugly wounds. Wounds that did not look ordinary in the eyes of the experienced healthcare workers. Some uneasiness with the diagnosis would cross the medics minds, then they would wish them away. After all, we have a mantra in medicine that diseases come in seasons. This seemed to be the season for funny wounds.
There was one more peculiar thing. These patients were from a specific geographical location in the county. Another nagging thought. It is always easy looking at things in retrospect. I harbour that privilege of hindsight now.
But on another ordinary day, as they went about their chores, they received a special patient. A 7-year-old boy. He did not have any problems. No pain or blisters erupting into ugly wounds.
“I am here to follow up on my neighbours,” at this point the reflex would have been to send the poor kid away to await the visiting hours. But the medic just offered patience and a keen ear.
That is when the jigsaw puzzle started unravelling. The blisters, now wounds. Weird, unusual wounds. The same geographical location where the patients ailed from. The loops and sockets, the knobs and holes, the keys and locks. The jigsaw puzzle was coming to shape.
Cows had died. The able bodied did the skinning and division of meat. As they say in the village in question, “Tutitayaa inoru” (we do not discard meat from a fat cow).
When they distributed the meat in the village, there was joy and celebration. The elderly and the little ones alike, all devoured the easy protein source.
The little boy was among the first beneficiaries. The elderly ones were safe and healthy. He just could not understand why the youthful had been taken ill. It is this curiosity that brought him to hospital. He did not know if he was next. He did not know what lay ahead for his grandparents. Would they develop blisters in due course? Would they take the trek to the hospital in a subsequent date? Would they survive such an eventuality?
This story was the Aha moment for the medics. Like the one that hit Isaac Newton while lying on his garden in Woolsthorpe Manor during that 1666 summer; when that apple fell. The birth of the law of gravity!
The boy just needed reassurance that his grandparents would be okay. They would be, he was reassured. And he was given a clean bill of health as he left. But behind him he left solutions to questions and dilemmas that had persisted for a while.
Anything else you know about the outbreak of cutaneous anthrax in Meru county sprang into the public lime light courtesy of this invaluable information from the courageous little boy. Was it courage or curiosity? Was it fear and trepidation?
The youthful lads who skinned and prepared the meat may, in their hardworking nature, have had scrapes to their skin. That could explain them suffering from cutaneous anthrax while the rest of meat consumers remained healthy. Even when they are in the category we consider at higher risk of contracting disease- the elderly and the young children.
The world is full of good people. Salute to the courageous and curious little boy.