BISSAU, 1 July (IRIN) - A cholera epidemic that broke out in the capital Bissau last month is spreading into the interior of the country, with more than 400 new cases reported nationwide over the past week, health officials said Friday.
Since the beginning of the epidemic on 11 June, a total 1,027 cases have been registered, including 12 deaths, said Simao Mendes, director of Bissau's General Hospital.
The hospital is struggling to cope and has more than 300 people suffering from the highly infectious water-borne disease currently crammed into wards, he said.
Mendes said 981 of the cholera cases detected so far had occurred in the capital, but an increasing number of people were falling sick with the disease in other parts of this small West African country.
In the five days since 26 June, 425 new cases have been reported, including 46 outside Bissau, he said.
There have been 34 cases of cholera in Biombo region near the capital, 6 in Cacheu in the northwest, five in northern Oio and one in Quinara in the south.
Eight people have died in the capital and four more in the interior, Mendes said.
This is the first cholera epidemic to hit Bissau for three years.
The disease is generally associated with polluted drinking water and poor sanitation. It causes rapid dehydration of the body through acute diarrhoea and vomiting and can prove fatal unless treated quickly.
The current epidemic coincides with the start of the rainy season, which has polluted wells in Bissau, a city of 300,000 people and made the quality of drinking water in its leaky pipes even more unreliable.
Earlier this week, Portugal, the former colonial power in Guinea-Bissau, announced that it was flying in 15 tonnes of drugs and medical equipment to help deal with the emergency.
Health Minister Odete Semedo said on Wednesday that Lisbon was supplying rehydrdration fluid, disinfectant, rubber gloves and other essential equipment.
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