MAPUTO, Jan 27 (Reuters) - A cholera outbreak has killed 12 people and infected hundreds more in northern Mozambique, where floods that have swept away thousands of homes are speeding the spread of the disease, health workers said on Monday.
Virginia Saldanha, head of the health department in Sofala province, told Reuters a total of 402 cases had been reported in the past three weeks, but all the deaths had come in the past seven days.
Cholera is the latest in a string of disasters to hit the impoverished southern African country, which last week reported the first deaths from starvation amid widespread food shortages.
Floods caused by Cyclone Delfina in the Nampula and Zambezia areas have destroyed thousands of homes, schools and health centres, damaged bridges and roads and interrupted electricity supplies to northern Mozambique.
"Ten people have so far died in the district of Maringue... In the whole province, 336 cases have been reported.
"The disease is spreading rapidly in the northern Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces. Two people have died from a total of 67 cases reported," Saldanha said.
Cholera is an acute, diarrhoea-based illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacteria known as vibrio cholerae.
Symptoms include severe diarrhoea, vomiting and leg cramps. Rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock, and without treatment death can occur within hours.
NUMBER OF CHOLERA CASES MAY INCREASE
Saldanha said poor sanitation and a shortage of clean drinking water was speeding the spread of cholera.
"There are fears that the number of victims may increase in the province as rains continue to fall and create grounds for the spread of the disease," she said.
Medical teams have been flown to Sofala, Cabo Delgado and Nampula to tackle the disease and sanitation problems, the government's disaster management agency said.
Government officials said they had stabilised food supplies in remote Tete province, sandwiched by the borders of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where nine deaths from starvation were reported last week.
"There have been several food airdrops in the area and we are moving more food by road after a quick repair of bridges," an official from the disaster agency said.
More than 14 million people in six southern African countries -- Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho -- face food shortages because drought and floods destroyed crops in the 2001/2002 season.
Flooding in Mozambique and Malawi, where an estimated 3.9 million people could starve, has increased problems for aid agencies distributing food and for farmers trying to avoid another disastrous harvest.
Devastating floods in Mozambique in 2000 killed 700 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, prompting an appeal to foreign donors for almost $500 million in reconstruction aid.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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