Page last updated at 04:38 GMT, Tuesday, 1 September 2009 05:38 UK

India diarrhoea outbreak kills 26

By Sanjaya Jena in Bhubaneshwar

A young boy collects water from a tanker in South Asia (file picture)
Diarrhoea is a major killer in the developing world

An outbreak of diarrhoea in the eastern Indian state of Orissa has claimed 26 lives, a state minister has said.

The deaths have been reported in several villages in Kalahandi district, Health Minister Prasanna Acharya said.

Local newspapers put the death toll at 38. Health officials say 237 people suffering from the disease have been admitted to hospitals.

Diarrhoea is a major killer in the world and is thought to be responsible for around 4% of all deaths.

Remote villages

A team of doctors from the federal National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has travelled to the affected villages and begun an investigation into the causes of the outbreak.

Diarrhoea is the passage of three or more loose or liquid stools per day, or more frequently than is normal for the individual
Usually a symptom of gastrointestinal infection, caused by a variety of bacterial, viral and parasitic organisms
Infection spread through contaminated food or drinking-water, or from person to person due to poor hygiene
Severe diarrhoea leads to fluid loss, and may be life-threatening

Consumption of contaminated water and rotting food by local people may have led to the deaths, health officials say.

Doctors and paramedics are struggling to reach the remote villages, often having to walk five to seven kilometres in the absence of any roads.

Health Minister Prasanna Acharya said 100 doctors travelling in mobile medical vans had been deployed to fight the outbreak.

There is an acute shortage of doctors in Kalahandi district - against the government-sanctioned 173 doctors in local hospitals, only 101 have been employed.

Many doctors are unwilling to serve in remote areas in India.

Kalahandi is one of the poorest parts of India and hunger and starvation deaths have been reported from this district in the past.

Drinking water here often comes from waterfalls and drains, which are usually contaminated.

More than 100 people died in a major outbreak of cholera two years ago in the Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput districts of Orissa.

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