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Background: Understanding the molecular epidemiology and clinical presentation of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants of concern (VOC) in rural-urban populations in Kenya is important for informing future public health responses and clinical care. Methods: We undertook a retrospective analysis of the clinical presentation and phylogenetic relatedness of specimens from 97 SARS-CoV-2 cases collected between 24th April and 31st December 2021 in Laikipia county, Kenya. VOC were related to observed symptoms. Phylogenetic analyses included contemporaneous sequences from across Kenya and the globe, to contextualise local transmission dynamics. Results: These sequences fell into three VOC; Alpha (n=8), Delta (n=52) and Omicron (n=37). We estimated 75 independent SARS-CoV-2 introductions into the county. The Alpha and Delta VOC were commonly detected in persons aged 31 to 45 years, 50.0% and 30.8%, respectively. The Omicron VOC was mostly detected in 16 to 30-year-olds (51.4%). Whereas relative to the other VOCs, Omicron was associated with mild upper-respiratory tract symptoms (cough, OR 3.78; 95% CI 1.1 – 16.74, p= 0.026) and sore throat, OR 22.42; 95% CI 7.11 – 81.40, p<0.001), Delta was associated with moderate to severe lower-respiratory tract symptoms (shortness of breath, OR 26.8; 95% CI 3.89 – 1158.14, p<0.001) and fever (OR 6.11; 95% CI 1.57 – 35.35, p= 0.004). Post-acute phase neurological complications were suspected in four Delta infected cases (neuralgia, neuritis, peripheral neuropathy, numbness of hand and tinnitus). Conclusion: We highlight the distinctive clinical characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs, as observed in Laikipia, Kenya, to support evidence-based clinical decisions. Multiple introductions of the VOCs were recorded despite the public health measures that were in place questioning their effectiveness during the study period.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome Open Research


F1000 Research Ltd

Publication Date





235 - 235