Page last updated at 06:51 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 07:51 UK

Papua New Guinea hit by cholera

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney


An outbreak of cholera has reportedly killed more than 40 people in a remote area of Papua New Guinea.

Government officials said that hundreds of other villagers in Morobe Province have fallen ill.

A World Health Organisation medical team has confirmed the outbreak and PNG's health minister has ordered measures to contain its spread.

Cholera is usually spread through contaminated food or water and can be fatal if not treated.

This is the first time the disease has officially been confirmed in the country.

Mystery illness

Health Minister Sasa Zibe warned that more cases of the acute intestinal infection would put added pressure on the country's "fragile health system."

The deaths are reported to have occurred in the remote Finsch-hafen district of Morobe province on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea.

Officials said that up to 800 people have been taken ill.

Villagers with cholera's diarrhoea-like symptoms or severe dehydration have been advised to seek immediate treatment.

The region's isolation and lack of development make that difficult but the government has dispatched medical teams to the affected area.

At the end of last week the World Health Organisation sent experts to Morobe province to investigate reports that a mysterious illness was sweeping through a number of settlements.

Tests have shown the disease to be cholera.

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