March 20, 2009 / 1:43 PM / 10 years ago

Malawi says cholera outbreak kills 104

LILONGWE (Reuters) - A cholera outbreak in Malawi has killed 104 people since January, the highest toll in the southern African country for six years, a senior health official said on Friday.

Health secretary Chris Kang’ombe told Reuters 4,697 cases had been reported since the outbreak at the start of the rainy season. It had been worsened by water shortages, especially in the capital Lilongwe where the water board utility had gone on strike. Poor sanitation was also a factor.

“Most people are abandoning personal hygiene and we found that very few people have toilets,” Kang’ombe said.

He said cases were now falling thanks to preventive measures and the end of the rainy season. The government, with the help of U.N. agencies, was providing water treatment in affected areas and discouraging people from preparing food at funerals and buying cooked meals from vendors.

Around 960 people died from a cholera outbreak in Malawi in 2001/02, but only 20 people died from the disease last year.

Cholera is transmitted by contaminated water or food. At its most acute, it causes diarrhoea that can lead to death by severe dehydration and kidney failure.

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