Published: 7 April 2011
The UN has said that reports circulating of cholera among victims of last month's earthquake in Shan state are "absolutely untrue", although the area has been hit by less severe illnesses. The Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency yesterday claimed that 96 cases of the contagious illness, 48 of which were serious, had been diagnosed in the eastern Burmese state where a 6.8 magnitude quake struck on 24 March. It was quoting the Burmese domestic Messenger News journal.
The UN's spokesperson in Burma, Aye Win, told DVB however that he was there at the weekend and no cases had been found, although local groups had reported "sporadic cases of gastro-intestinal diseases and 48 cases of diarrhea".
He added that it was "regrettable" that the false information had been repeated in other news reports, including the UN's own ReliefWeb service.
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that causes diarrhea-like symptoms, but it must first be confirmed in a laboratory. Polluted water systems that can cause cholera are a common by-product of disasters like earthquakes, as was seen in Haiti following the 2010 quake, but there has been no confirmation in Shan state.
Up to 150 people were killed and 3,000 left homeless by the Burma earthquake, whose epicentre lay around 100 kilometres north of the border with Thailand.
Wells and water pipes in the worst-hit Tarlay region had been damaged by the tremors, and the World Vision aid group said that high levels of sulphur were being found in water supplies.