PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A cholera epidemic that broke out in August in northeastern South Africa has now infected almost 7,000 people, with 66 new cases reported in the last 24 hours, authorities said Saturday.

Of the 6,989 people infected since the epidemic started, 38 people have died, Roz Jordan, a spokeswoman for the KwaZulu-Natal provincial health department, told the South African Press Association.

The highly contagious, waterborne disease has spread throughout rural areas in the province, where many people don't have access to tap water and sanitation.

Human waste flushed into the rivers contaminates the water, which residents use for drinking, cooking and washing. Authorities have urged people to purify the river water by boiling it or adding bleach and have provided tankers of clean water to some communities in areas affected by cholera.