May 16, 2008 / 6:08 AM / 11 years ago

Some cholera confirmed in cyclone-hit Myanmar

BANGKOK (Reuters) - An international aid agency has confirmed some cases of cholera in Myanmar’s cyclone-hit Irawaddy delta but the number was in line with normal levels in previous years, an aid official said on Friday.

“We do have some confirmed cholera,” World Health Organization representative Maureen Birmingham told a news conference in Bangkok. She was speaking on behalf of around 30 health groups trying to get medical aid into the delta, where cholera is endemic.

“We don’t have an explosion of cholera. Thus far the rate of cholera is no greater than the background rate that we would be seeing in Myanmar during this season,” she said.

A network was still being set up to monitor for diseases among 2.5 million people severely affected by the cyclone that tore through the delta two weeks ago, she said.

Diarrhea, dysentery and skin infections have afflicted some cyclone refugees crammed into monasteries, schools and other temporary shelters after the devastating May 2 storm.

The first sign of cholera, which is spread by drinking contaminated dirty water, is “rice water” Diarrhea leading to chronic dehydration and possibly death within a few hours.

Without treatment, it can spread rapidly through populations of displaced people and kill as many as one in two victims.

The WHO has sent emergency health kits to the devastated region and was providing bleach and chlorine tablets to treat dirty water.

Corpses are still rotting along the banks of the Irrawaddy river two weeks after the disaster which killed up to 128,000, but the WHO said they pose no risk to public health.

“There has never been a documented case of a post-natural disaster epidemic that could be traced to dead bodies,” the WHO said in a statement.

It said the peak danger period is between 10 days and one month after a natural disaster due to the heightened threat of unsafe food, dirty water and poor hygiene and sanitation in overcrowded shelters.

“It is how the survivors are managed, rather than how the dead are managed, that determines if and when an epidemic may occur,” the WHO said.

Reporting by Ed Cropley; Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Jerry Norton

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