Cholera outbreak kills 34 people in Ethiopia

By Jason McLure

ADDIS ABABA (Bloomberg) — At least 34 people died in Ethiopia following a suspected cholera outbreak, with more than 4,000 sickened in the capital, Addis Ababa, in the past two weeks.

The disease has infected as many as 1,000 people a day in the past week, Dadi Jima, deputy director of the state-owned Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute, said in an interview today. He declined to say the disease is cholera.

The government has not “fully confirmed” the type of illness, Dadi said. “We usually report it as acute watery diarrhea.” The spread of the disease has been exacerbated by heavy rains in the Horn of Africa country, he said.

Cholera, mainly spread through contaminated water and food and poor sanitation, causes acute diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to death. The illness is considered to be endemic in “many countries” and the pathogen that causes the disease can’t currently be eliminated from the environment, according to the Web site of the World Health Organization.

The United Nations humanitarian agency said six cholera- treatment centers capable of treating 180 people a day have been dispatched to the country. The UN has also sent drugs for the treatment of more than 1,500 severe cases and 600 mild cases of acute water diarrhea, as well as water-purification tablets, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an e-mailed statement.

Of the 34 who have died in Ethiopia, seven fatalities were in Addis Ababa, Dadi said. He didn’t provide figures for the number of people affected nationwide, adding only that the disease had been reported in 31 districts.

If untreated, cholera can kill a healthy adult in as little as five hours, according to the WHO.

(Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at [email protected])