(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cholera affecting 10 districts

Cholera - Vibrio cholerae

Cholera has killed at least 22 people and infected some 660 in different parts of the country since late 2008, according to a senior health official.

The affected provinces are Eastern, Northeastern, Nyanza and Western.

"Around 10 districts are affected in the country," Shahnaaz Sharif, the director of public health and sanitation, told IRIN. "At present, there are more cases being reported in Athi River [37km southeast of the capital, Nairobi]." New cases have also been reported in Kakamega, the main town in Western Province.

"The cumulative total of 660 is of cases reported since November 2008," Sharif said. "If one case in an area tests positive for cholera then anybody else coming in with similar symptoms from the area is taken as having cholera," he said, commenting on the number of cases.

The outbreak has been attributed to water shortages as well as poor sanitation and hygiene.

Cholera deaths have also been reported in Moyale along the Kenyan-Ethiopia border. "A total of 65 cases and three deaths have been reported," the World Health Organization (WHO) said in an update on 8 March. "The neighbouring country [Ethiopia] is also experiencing an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea in the same locality, and has reported 109 cases and 16 deaths. However, they have not confirmed it as cholera."

Sharif said the recurrent cholera outbreak in Western and Nyanza regions had been caused by population movement between districts and the drawing of water from contaminated sources. "It [cholera] can be brought under control in one area, then it recurs as the people move." At least 46 deaths and 832 cases were reported after an outbreak a year ago.

According to WHO, fewer than half the rural population in Kenya had sustainable access to improved drinking water sources and sanitation in 2006. The population with sustainable access to improved sanitation in urban areas was 19 percent.

''The cumulative total of 660 is of cases reported since November 2008''

Improved sanitation includes connection to public sewers, septic systems, pour-flush latrines, simple pit latrines and ventilated improved pit latrines. Bucket latrines, predominant in parts of the Northeast, as well as public and open latrines, are not considered improved sanitation.

Health education campaigns and the chlorination of water sources are ongoing in the affected areas to stem the current outbreak.

Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium vibrio cholerae. The infection is often mild but sometimes it can be severe; without treatment, death can occur within hours due to dehydration.

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