Notes from the Field: Ongoing Cholera Outbreak — Kenya, 2014–2016

Githuka George, MD1; Jacob Rotich1; Hudson Kigen1; Kiama Catherine, MD1; Bonface Waweru1; Waqo Boru1; Tura Galgalo1; Jane Githuku1; Mark Obonyo1; Kathryn Curran, PhD2,3; Rupa Narra, MD2,3; Samuel J. Crowe, PhD2,3; Ciara E. O’Reilly, PhD3; Daniel Macharia4; Joel Montgomery, PhD4; John Neatherlin4; Kevin M. De Cock, MD4; Sara Lowther, PhD4; Zeinab Gura1; Daniel Langat5; Ian Njeru5; Jackson Kioko6; Nicholas Muraguri7 (View author affiliations)

View suggested citation
Article Metrics

Views equals page views plus PDF downloads

Related Materials

On January 6, 2015, a man aged 40 years was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, with acute watery diarrhea. The patient was found to be infected with toxigenic Vibrio cholerae serogroup O1, serotype Inaba. A subsequent review of surveillance reports identified four patients in Nairobi County during the preceding month who met either of the Kenya Ministry of Health suspected cholera case definitions: 1) severe dehydration or death from acute watery diarrhea (more than four episodes in 12 hours) in a patient aged ≥5 years, or 2) acute watery diarrhea in a patient aged ≥2 years in an area where there was an outbreak of cholera. An outbreak investigation was immediately initiated. A confirmed cholera case was defined as isolation of V. cholerae O1 or O139 from the stool of a patient with suspected cholera or a suspected cholera case that was epidemiologically linked to a confirmed case. By January 15, 2016, a total of 11,033 suspected or confirmed cases had been reported from 22 of Kenya’s 47 counties (Table). The outbreak is ongoing.

Reference laboratory confirmation of selected isolates from several counties indicated that the predominant outbreak strain was toxigenic V. cholerae serogroup O1, serotype Ogawa, biotype El Tor, susceptible to tetracycline, a proxy for doxycycline, which is used for treatment of severely ill cholera patients in conjunction with hydration. The majority of isolates subtyped shared an indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis profile. Although the first identified case was documented as serotype Inaba, only a small number of the many isolates tested were subsequently confirmed as the Inaba strain.

The outbreak has been characterized by multiple peaks of varying size as cholera has spread from county to county, with the largest peak occurring in February 2015 (Figure). More than half of all cases have been reported from three counties: Wajir (2,426; 22.0%), Nairobi (1,824; 16.5%) and Migori (1,521 cases; 13.8%). Overall, 178 cholera-related deaths have been reported (case fatality rate = 1.6%) (Table). The national case fatality rate has consistently ranged between 1.6% and 2.0% throughout the outbreak. With appropriate case management (administration of oral rehydration salts in most cases), the case fatality rate from cholera should remain below 1%. By county, case fatality rates have ranged from zero (0 of 22 cases in Narok, 0 of 46 in Turkana, and 0 of 26 in Marsabit counties) to 13.0% (3 of 23) in Trans-Nzoia County. As of January 15, 2016, the Kenya Ministry of Health determined that 16 of 22 affected counties had controlled the outbreak, which was defined as reporting zero cases during the preceding 10 days.

To identify risk factors for acquiring cholera during the current outbreak, the Ministry of Health Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program conducted case-control studies in four counties (Homa Bay, Migori, Nairobi, and Nakuru). In each county, 52 case-patients and 104 age- and residence-matched controls were enrolled. Compared with controls, cholera case-patients in all counties were more commonly found to have 1) lack of health education regarding cholera and diarrheal diseases, 2) lack of access to safe water and hygienic sanitation services, 3) inadequate hand washing practices, and 4) eaten food outside the home. The findings were disseminated to county leaders to aid in targeting cholera prevention measures, including public health education and water and sanitation interventions.

In three counties (Nairobi, Homa Bay, and Mombasa), knowledge, attitudes, and practices surveys were conducted to evaluate response efforts among 1,418 community members, 61 health care workers, 44 health facilities, and 51 community health extension workers. The survey results indicated that the communities had high cholera awareness, but cholera prevention knowledge was inadequate, as was access to safe water and appropriate sanitation facilities. In addition, health care workers had inadequate knowledge of critical signs of severe dehydration and appropriate use of antibiotics for cholera, and health facilities often lacked adequate lifesaving supplies, particularly intravenous fluids.

Community health extension workers were integral to the promotion of prevention messaging and distribution of supplies. In addition to scaling up preparedness, continued active surveillance, laboratory confirmation of cases, and implementation of recommended interventions continue to be critical (1). Such efforts are especially important given that heavy El Niño rains in Kenya continued into 2016 in some areas* and that cholera outbreaks are ongoing in neighboring and nearby countries including Tanzania, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2). This nationwide outbreak is one example of a public health emergency to which a proposed national public health institute could help respond (3).


County health teams involved in cholera case reporting and outbreak response efforts; Kenya National Public Health Laboratories; CDC-Kenya enterics laboratories; Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC.

Corresponding author: Nicholas Muraguri,, +254-72-090-3947.

1Ministry of Health, Kenya Field Epidemiology and Laboratory Training Program; 2Epidemic Intelligence Service, CDC; 3Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC; 4CDC-Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya; 5Ministry of Health, Disease Surveillance and Response Unit, Kenya; 6Ministry of Health Department of Preventive and Promotive Health, Kenya; 7Ministry of Health, Director of Medical Services, Kenya.


  1. CDC. Cholera—Vibrio cholerae infection: outbreak response resources. Atlanta, GA: World Health Organization, CDC; 2014.
  2. World Health Organization. Disease outbreak news: cholera—Democratic Republic of Congo. Brazzaville, Republic of Congo: World Health Organization, Regional Office for Africa; 2015.
  3. Bloland P, Simone P, Burkholder B, Slutsker L, De Cock KM. The role of public health institutions in global health system strengthening efforts: the US CDC’s perspective. PLoS Med 2012;9:e1001199. CrossRef PubMed

Return to your place in the textTABLE. Number (N = 11,033) and percentage of reported cholera cases, number of deaths, and case fatality rate — 22 counties, Kenya, December 26, 2014–January 15, 2016
County No. of cases (%) No. of deaths Case fatality rate
Wajir 2,426 (22.0) 35 1.4
Nairobi 1,824 (16.5) 32 1.8
Migori 1,521 (13.8) 25 1.6
Garissa 1,388 (12.6) 11 0.8
Muranga 745 (6.8) 5 0.7
Homabay 489 (4.4) 6 1.2
Kirinyaga 443 (4.0) 3 0.7
Nakuru 392 (3.6) 17 4.3
Mombasa 300 (2.7) 11 3.7
Bomet 272 (2.5) 2 0.7
Embu 234 (2.1) 3 1.3
Baringo 209 (1.9) 1 0.5
Kiambu 154 (1.4) 7 4.5
Siaya 146 (1.3) 8 5.5
Kisumu 125 (1.1) 2 1.6
Kilifi 100 (0.9) 1 1.0
Marsabit 86 (0.8) 0 0
Machakos 80 (0.7) 5 6.3
Turkana 46 (0.4) 0 0
Trans-Nzoia 23 (0.2) 3 13.0
Narok 22 (0.2) 0 0
Isiolo 8 (0.1) 1 12.5
Total 11,033 (100.0) 178 1.6
Return to your place in the textFIGURE. Number of reported cholera cases by date of onset — Kenya, December 26, 2014–January 15, 2016
The figure above is a distribution chart showing the number of reported cholera cases by date of onset in Kenya during December 26, 2014–January 15, 2016.

Suggested citation for this article: George G, Rotich J, Kigen H, et al. Notes from the Field: Ongoing Cholera Outbreak — Kenya, 2014–2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:68–69. DOI:

MMWR and Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report are service marks of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
References to non-CDC sites on the Internet are provided as a service to MMWR readers and do not constitute or imply endorsement of these organizations or their programs by CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC is not responsible for the content of pages found at these sites. URL addresses listed in MMWR were current as of the date of publication.

All HTML versions of MMWR articles are generated from final proofs through an automated process. This conversion might result in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users are referred to the electronic PDF version ( and/or the original MMWR paper copy for printable versions of official text, figures, and tables.

Questions or messages regarding errors in formatting should be addressed to

View Page In: PDF [203K]