The Ministry of Health announced Friday there has been an increase in cases of severe diarrhea in general as well as 128 confirmed cases of cholera and one death since the end of November.
Ministry and World Health Organization officials said they did not have data at hand comparing the number of cases this year to last, but admitted there had been a significant increase.
“There are many more cases of diarrhea” compared to last year, Dr Sok Touch, director of the Ministry of Health’s Department of Communicable Diseases, said by telephone yesterday.
Acute watery diarrhea is one of 12 ailments that the ministry monitors and responds to immediately as part of an emergency response program.
Officials at a press briefing held Friday noted that cholera, a bacterium which causes severe diarrhea, had been confirmed in a number of cases. But since the bacteria can only be identified at the handful of hospitals which have lab facilities, it is unknown what percentage of this season’s acute diarrhea cases are due to cholera.
“We have people report acute watery diarrhea. We do not use the term cholera because we don’t have labs at the local level,” said Dr Touch.
Echoing comments given individually over the course of last week, officials emphasized that cholera treatment is no different than that for severe diarrhea. Patients should drink rehydration solutions and go to the hospital if seriously ill. Drinking water should be boiled and latrines covered.
“We would like to appeal to all members of the press to convey the methods of prevention,” said Secretary of State Eng Huot.
When asked why the briefing was not held at an earlier date, Dr Touch said: “We don’t want people to panic and then protect themselves–we don’t want people to think, ‘When I have cholera, I wash my hands. When I have other diarrhea, I don’t have to.'”
“We want to consider it as a package disease,” he said.