/ 14 November 2007

Cause of Delmas diarrhoea outbreak still a mystery

Authorities are working “round the clock” to establish what caused an outbreak of diarrhoea in Delmas, the Mpumalanga health department said on Wednesday — though the Treatment Action Campaign in the province has accused the department of covering up the cause of the outbreak.

Six children who were hospitalised on Friday with high fevers were discharged on Monday. The outbreak was detected on October 22 and by Monday 691 people had been treated.

Four people died when the area was hit by typhoid in September 2005, but so far there has been no typhoid link.

As a precautionary matter, residents have been advised to boil water before use.

“We are working around the clock,” departmental spokesperson Mpho Gabashane said.

Tommy Nkoana, African National Congress regional secretary in Nkangala, said media reports are giving the impression that hundreds of people are flocking to clinics every day, but this is not true.

He visited some clinics and found only “about three” people reporting symptoms of diarrhoea. “It’s not 500 a day,” he said.

He said some of these people had been frightened by what they read in the media and were asking for check-ups as a precaution if they had a slight ailment like a headache. “It is always scary; people are worried,” he said.

He added that a group of specialists from the department of water affairs and forestry, the health department and from some universities has been testing the water daily.

Further information would only be available later on Wednesday after the testing team had briefed Gabashane.

However, the Treatment Action Campaign’s Mpumalanga spokesperson Bheki Khoza told the Mail & Guardian Online that it believes the Mpumalanga government is covering up the real cause of the diarrhoea outbreak.

“If you look at the number infected with diarrhoea, it is raising quickly. Six-hundred-and-ninety have been admitted to hospital, according to the statements of the department of health. One of our sources said that the water is contaminated. We will be conducting tests ourselves.”