Doctors Say Ill Villagers Might Have Cholera

A team of health officials re­turned from Ratanakkiri province Friday after investigating whether a flu outbreak that sickened 27 and killed six in early March could be cholera, health officials said Monday.

Team leader Dr Severin Von Xylander of the World Health Organization said it was too early to determine whether of not the sickness—marked by high fever, diarrhea and respiratory problems—could be cholera.

Von Xylander said the illness appeared to be treatable with antibiotics, but officials from the Ministry of Health and WHO have requested that provincial health authorities prepare for a cholera outbreak.

Provincial health officials have been armed with cholera kits, including bags of IV fluid to prevent people from dying of dehydration, a common result of chol­era, said Dr Sok Touch, director of the Health Ministry’s Com­mun­icable Disease Department.

Informative pamphlets also are being distributed to the community, mainly comprised of ethnic minorities, Sok Touch said.

The doctors originally were de­ployed last week to determine whether the illness that has struck Tampuon minorities in two remote villages of O’Chum District was related to the pneumonia-like Severe Acute Respira­tory Syndrome that has killed more than 12 people across Asia and Canada.

Von Xylander said the cases were “not linked at all.” The sick had neither traveled to SARS-infected regions nor been in contact with anyone infected with the disease, he said.

Sok Touch said the government must be particularly careful with its handling of underlying diseases like tuberculosis and malaria, since Ratanakkiri has a history of cholera outbreaks.

Approximately 100 people died and more than 1,300 others fell ill from a cholera outbreak in six districts throughout the province four years ago. Biologists at the Pasteur Institute currently are analyzing samples taken from the sick and the dead, but Von Xylander said the tests may not yield the sought-after results, since samples of an acute case were taken “a while ago.”

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