August 20, 2010

UN Health Officials Warn Of Cholera Resurgence

World Health Organization (WHO) experts are warning about the resurgence of cholera, pointing towards outbreaks of the acute diarrheal disease in several parts of the world.

The United Nations (UN) affiliated health agency recorded more than 2,800 cases of the disease in Cameroon, with 222 fatalities reported since May, according to what WHO cholera chief Claire-Lise Chaignat told the AFP news agency on Thursday.

In addition, according to Nigerian health officials, more than 4,600 individuals in the northern part of Nigeria have become infected with the bacterium Vibrio cholera since the middle of June, with a reported 231 of them succumbing to the illness.

Flooding was one of the major contributors to the outbreak in Nigeria, according to what Health Minister Onyebuchi Chuku told VOANews.com on Friday.

"Many people in those areas still do not use standard toilet facilities. It is open defecation. So as long as there is nothing carrying that waste into the source of water supplies, there is no problem," he said. "But during the rains, of course, flood water will carry all that into our streams. And streams are the common source of water supply in those area. And when people now take their water supplies from those streams, they then get the infection."

Similar outbreaks have also been recorded in the Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Laos, Nepal, Papau New Guinea, and Uganda, according to AFP.

According to WHO statistics, cholera, which is caused by the consumption of bacteria-infested food or water, typically effects between three and five million people each year.

"It's a disease of the poor, a sign of a lack of access to clean drinking water and of poor hygiene," Chaignat said. "Cholera contrary to other illnesses can generate panic because the death can take place in several hours."

Of those individuals, an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 deaths occur annually, while as many as 80-percent of those infected could be successfully treated using oral rehydration salts.

"Cholera remains a global threat to public health and a key indicator of lack of social development," the health organization reports on its official website, noting that the number of reported cases "continue to rise" and that the recent re-emergence of the disease "has been noted in parallel with the ever-increasing size of vulnerable populations living in unsanitary conditions."


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