El-Tor cholera leaves 17 dead

KABUL, 7 October 2008 (IRIN) - An outbreak of El Tor cholera in northern, eastern and southeastern Afghanistan has killed at least 17 people - mostly women and children - in the past few weeks, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said on 6 October.

Over 1,100 people with diarrhoea and vomiting caused by the outbreak have received treatment at medical facilities in 13 of the country's 34 provinces. The worst affected provinces are Laghman, Nooristan, and Nangarhar (in the east); Samangan and Faryab (north); and Nimruz (west), the MoPH said.

"It's not a classic cholera which quickly turns into an epidemic," Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the MoPH, told IRIN. El Tor (a strain of the bacterium vibrio cholerae [http://www.textbookofbacteriology.net/cholera.html]) is less fatal, and controllable, Fahim said.

Health workers said the use of contaminated water and poor sanitation had prompted the outbreak.

Less than 24 percent of Afghanistan's estimated 26.6 million people have access to improved drinking water and only 12 percent have access to improved sanitation, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

A severe drought affecting large swaths of the country has made life very difficult for many communities, forcing people to use unsafe water for drinking, washing and cooking.

Outbreak under control in nine provinces

The MoPH said teams of health workers with medication have been sent to the affected provinces to help local authorities control the spread of the bacteria.

"The disease has been controlled in nine provinces and similar efforts are currently under way in four others," Fahim said.

Water chlorination in affected areas is a top priority, as is the boosting of public awareness about personal sanitation and communal hygiene.

"We have also dispatched sachets of oral rehydration salts and other medicines to provide quick oral rehydration therapy to those in need," Fahim said.

Whilst not as life-threatening as other cholera strains, the El Tor bacterium remains for longer in the body and is capable of host-to-host transmission, according to health experts.

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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