Delmas typhoid outbreak claims first victim

One person has died following a typhoid outbreak in the Delmas area in Mpumalanga, a report said on Monday.

The report, compiled by the departments of health, water affairs and forestry, agriculture and land affairs, and local government—which was released on Monday—said three deaths have been reported since the outbreak. Only one, however, is confirmed to have been typhoid related.

The victim was a 34-year-old man, who died on September 6.

The report was given to Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry Buyelwa Sonjica on Monday.

The latest figures say that 287 cases of typhoid have been reported since the outbreak on August 22. Eighty-nine of the cases have been hospitalised.

There are 1 406 people suffering from diarrhoea.

Tshabalala-Msimang and Sonjica visited the typhoid-stricken town of Delmas on Monday where there is growing concern among residents regarding the scale of the outbreak.

This is the second typhoid outbreak to hit the area in 12 years and residents are demanding to know why it was not prevented.

“There is a serious panic in the community with people demanding answers,” said community development worker Bantu Mabena. “We had an outbreak in 1993 and no feedback about the cause was given. And now it’s happening again.”

Sonjica said the source of the problem is the overloaded sewage system.

“This causes it to seep into the ground water that people are using,” she said. “There is a lack of capacity at local government to manage ground water, and this is an issue that the department needs to look at.”

She said her department “inherited” the problematic water system when the new government took over in 1994 and has not had sufficient time to deal with it.

However, Sonjica gave reassurance that the water could be purified in a couple of days.

In 1993, 2 000 people were reported to have acquired gastrointestinal disease in Delmas and Botleng township, with 57 of them confirmed to have contracted typhoid fever.

Contaminated ground water was also cited as the cause of the outbreak.

“This thing did not start a few weeks ago, it started as early as April when people kept on falling ill, complaining of stomach aches and headaches,” said Johanna Mnyakene, a resident of the dry and dusty Botleng. “We know a number of people who have died, but the municipality only decided to act now.”

Mnyakene (34) said the reason behind the increasing typhoid infection rate is the “dirty” water that is being supplied to residents.

As one is about to enter Botleng, there is a slight smell of sewage in the air.

“Sometimes, when we flush our toilets, the water comes out with a reddish colour and the smell attracts flies. No wonder we get sick because the water we get is also dirty. We wash our hands when we cook or handle anything, but still this does not seem to help,” said Mnyakene.

The Mpumalanga health department on Monday reassured both ministers that the situation is under control.

It said clinics and hospitals are now running 24 hours and that additional staff and resources have been deployed.

The department said 14 water tanks have been erected at several street corners and chlorine sachets are being given to residents to use to clean their water.

A door-to-door educational programme has also been introduced, which advocates a speedy response to the symptoms of typhoid—severe headaches, stomach and muscle pains and a high fever.

Gerhard Swart, of the Mpumalanga health department, said the normal incubation period of the virus ranges from two to three weeks.

“Even if we can get rid of the source today, we will continue to see symptoms in the next few weeks because of the incubation period.”—Sapa

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