At least 48 people have died and nearly 50 have been admitted to hospital due to an outbreak of cholera in Orissa's Rayagada district, officials said on Sunday.
However, local newspapers say over 250 people have died in the region in the past few weeks.
Three people died on Saturday alone in villages near Kashipur, some 500 km from Bhubaneswar, said chief district medical officer P Sitaram.
According to reports, the disease has affected thousands of people. "The situation has become so bad that a patient is being admitted to hospital every 10 minutes," Sambad paper said.
But the medical officer denied these reports. "The total number of people who have died in our district is 48 in the past one and half months," Sitaram told IANS. "The deaths have occurred in 26 villages in the district and 16 of these are inaccessible," he said.
The officer said around 50 people were undergoing treatment at the government hospital at Kashipur, adding that the situation was serious as fresh cases were being reported on Sunday too.
"We have treated over 6,000 people in the past one-and-half months in the region. Blood samples collected from the patients were tested. And some of them were confirmed as cholera cases," he said.
Sitaram attributed the outbreak to people drinking contaminated water from streams and ponds that have been polluted in the recent floods. They are also eating foods like rotten meat and seasonal mushrooms, he noted.
The district administration has provided at least 13 vehicles to bring patients from the affected villages to the nearest hospital.
In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known - a healthy person may die within two to three hours of the onset of symptoms.
The symptoms include those of general stomach upset and massive watery diarrhoea, including terrible muscle and stomach cramps, vomiting and fever.
Cholera is transmitted through ingestion of faeces contaminated water loaded with the cholera bacterium. The source of the contamination is typically other cholera patients when their untreated diarrhoea discharge is allowed to get into waterways or into groundwater or drinking water supply.
Seven new health centres have also been opened in the affected villages, with each centre having two doctors and other required medical staff and medicines, the official said.