KAMPALA, 5 August (IRIN) - A rare strain of the cholera bacteria has claimed the lives of 56 people and infected 2,200 others in several areas of Uganda during the past four months, health ministry officials said on Friday.
"We have been hit by an unusual cholera strain that has not been commonly observed in Uganda," Sam Zaramba, acting director of health services, said.
"It is a new entrant and we are warning the public to be more vigilant because the immunity developed by people could be too weak to fight the new strain," he added.
A statement issued by the ministry of health said that the population was likely to be highly susceptible and that if treatment was not sought promptly "the outcome could be severe."
"It has affected eleven districts with a total of 2,200 cases and 56 deaths since the beginning of the epidemic. Cholera task forces have been instituted at the district level and we are collaborating with a number of international agencies," Zaramba said.
He said poor sanitation and low personal hygiene standards were the main risk factors in the spread of the disease. Inadequate use of latrines and the consumption of uncooked food and unboiled water were common problems, he said.
"Cholera should have ceased to be a problem in Uganda. But we are concerned that personal hygiene has not improved and we are calling upon the general public to improve," Zaramba said.
The ministry urged the public to seek prompt medical treatment if they suspected that they could have been infected with the cholera bacteria.
It said that cases of cholera were still being reported in the northern districts of Arua, Nebbi, Gulu and Kotido as late as July.
The international medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-Holland said last month that lack of water in strife-torn northern Uganda had led to an increase in water-borne diseases, including cholera.
Internally displaced persons in camps in the northern district of Lira were living on less than three litres of water per person per day, MSF said in a statement.
"The internationally acceptable standards are 15 litres per person per day," Peter Muller, head of mission for MSF in the capital, Kampala, told IRIN.
MSF said morbidity data from its clinics in Lira district showed that diarrhoea, at 12 percent of cases, was the second most common ailment after malaria, while six percent of patients had worms, another water-related problem.
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