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Vietnam battles cholera outbreak

world Updated: Apr 14, 2008 08:27 IST

Vietnam, battling a cholera outbreak that has infected over 130 people, this week launches a month-long public hygiene drive while cracking down on dirty food stalls and dredging sewage-choked lakes.

The epidemic of the dangerous bacterial disease - the country's third major outbreak since October - has spread in recent weeks from its epicenter in Hanoi to southern H Chi Minh City and 16 provinces, officials said.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, at a weekend crisis meeting, ordered state agencies in the communist country to quickly come to grips with the epidemic, which has also seen over 1300 people hospitalised with acute diarrhoea .

The disease, spread through unsafe food, "not only affects our people's health but also socio-economic development, tourism and social security," he told ministers and provincial chiefs, according to the Tuoi Tre daily.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio cholerae. It causes diarrhoea and dehydration and can lead to kidney failure and death if untreated.

Vietnam has so far reported no fatalities from the three outbreaks.

Of 1,335 acute diarrhea cases reported since early March, 136 patients - or about 10 per cent - have tested positive for cholera, Deputy Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan said, according to the main government website.

The disease has thrown a spotlight on often poor hygiene conditions in Vietnam's public spaces, including wet markets and street side restaurants where ground-level cooking areas are often situated adjacent to toilets.

Many farmers use fresh manure to fertilise vegetables and polluted water to irrigate fields. At tens of thousands of street side food stalls, dishes and chopsticks are commonly washed using soapy but cold water.