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Hundreds die in cholera outbreak

The worst cholera epidemic in Nigeria in 19 years has killed nearly 800 people in two months and is spreading to Cameroon, Chad and Niger, where it has killed hundreds more.

At a maternity clinic and a nearby hospital in Ganjuwa, Nigeria, patients with blank eyes lay contorted on fouled mattresses from severe diarrhoea triggered by the cholera.

Small children laying under traditional brightly coloured cloth were hooked up to IV tubes as doctors tried to save them by rehydrating them intravenously.

As more and more patients arrived and occupied all the beds in the wards, doctors had to put them into storerooms and concrete hallways wet with human waste.

Throughout villages like Ganjuwa and cities across West Africa, lack of clean drinking water is allowing the waterborne bacterial disease to bloom. In Nigeria, 13,000 people have been sickened, according to the nation's Health Ministry.

Salisu Garba needs only to look at a communal trash pit outside his family's home in Ganjuwa to see how the cholera bacteria sickened and ultimately killed his 20-year-old brother.

Seasonal rains have turned the trash pit into a pond of raw sewage, which seeps into nearby wells, infecting Mr Garba's family and others in this rural village in northern Nigeria. "That pond is a source of worry," Mr Garba said. "We don't have any hope." These areas become breeding ground for cholera," said Chris Cormency, a UNICEF official monitoring the epidemic.

Mr Cormency said the disease began in Nigeria and then spread to neighbouring Cameroon, where more than 300 people have died and 5,000 have fallen ill. In Chad, more than 40 have died and 600 are sickened, while the disease also has popped up in nearby Niger, he said. It was not immediately clear how many people were affected there.

After someone was found sick with cholera on a train in Cameroon, the other 1,500 people onboard panicked. Health officials gave out antibiotics and tried to decontaminate the train, media in Cameroon reported.

Cholera is a fast-developing, highly contagious infection that causes diarrhoea, leading to severe dehydration and possible death. The current outbreak is the worst in Nigeria since 1991, when 7,654 people died, according to the World Health Organisation.

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