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South Africa Cholera Outbreak Grows

June 4, 2001

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ The number of people infected by a cholera outbreak in South Africa broke the 100,000 mark Monday, and authorities said there was no end in sight to the epidemic.

Since it surfaced last August, the highly infectious, waterborne disease has killed 208 people in the country’s southeast, mostly poor rural dwellers without access to clean water and proper sanitation in KwaZulu-Natal province.

``From the word go, a lot of experts were saying to us (cholera) is going to be with us for the next two to three years,″ said Dave McGlew, the KwaZulu-Natal health department’s head of communications. ``We are not making any predictions, but that seems accurate.″

In the early 1980s, South Africa’s worst cholera epidemic infected more than 105,400 people over a four-year period. More than 340 people died.

Although the numbers of new cases are declining, the current epidemic continues to infect up to 250 people a day.

Provincial health authorities said Monday 100,028 people had been infected since August.

Cholera often claims lives within hours of onset. It attacks the intestine of humans and can cause death by severe dehydration resulting from diarrhea. However, it is easy to treat if diagnosed early _ sufferers are rehydrated and back on their feet within as little as 12 hours.

McGlew said necessary facilities were now in place to manage the disease at the province’s 60 hospitals and 450 clinics, while mobile hydration facilities were serving remote communities.

To date less than 0.3 percent of those infected have died. The mortality rates is one of the lowest ever recorded.

Scientists are unsure what caused cholera to become dormant and then flare up again, but say that until people have access to clean running water and proper sanitation it is certain to recur.

About 7 million South Africans _ 16 percent of the population _ still do not have access to clean water, and about 18 million people do not have acceptable sanitation, according to government statistics.

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