Medical authorities in Kashmir have sounded an alert after an unusual number of diarrhoea cases were reported in Ganderbal district, one of the base camps of the annual Amarnath yatra that culminated on August 2.
At least 15 people have been infected in many villages of Kangan, including Rayil, Kullan, Gund, Haknar and Fraw, 30km north-east of Srinagar.
Medical Officer of Gund primary health centre, Dr Shafi Ahmad, confirmed that 15 patients admitted there showed symptoms of diarrhoea.
He said that the disease had spread mostly due to consumption of contaminated water sourced from rivers, streams and ponds in the district. People in the affected areas have been asked to consume boiled water, he said.
District chief medical officer Dr Dildar Mir however denied an outbreak, saying that "some cases have been reported from a scattered population".
"There is no need to worry, as some cases at this time of the year are usual," Mir said. "However we are vigilant, keeping in view the completion of the Amarnath yatra. There have been reports of open defecation by pilgrims which is the main cause of the disease," he said.
"I have directed all my officers to keep a track of the situation and report every new case to the higher authorities," the CMO said.
Over 6.2 lakh pilgrims visited the holy Amaranth cave situated at a height of 13,500 feet, passing through ice cold waters and glaciers. The streams from the glacier are a source of water to Lidder in Pahalgam and river Sindh in Ganderbal district.
Officials informed that of the total pilgrims who visited the shrine, around 1.5 lakh were unregistered. Not allowed to put up at the base camps, these pilgrims halt vehicles on the river banks to defecate and urinate.
The shrine board had set up hundreds of lavatories at base camps and on the trekking routes, but locals said that lack of awareness among the pilgrims was also contributing to the pollution.