A cholera outbreak in Uganda that has claimed eight lives among 280 cases since 14 February could escalate as predicted heavy rains are likely to lead to flooding, the Health Minister warned.
"As the rainy season starts, we predict a rise in cases and the death toll due to its mode of transmission," Christine Ondoa told IRIN.
"If people are prepared, the cases and possibly the death toll will not escalate. That is why we are warning the public ahead of the rainy season," said Ondoa.
In an alert issued in the capital, Kampala, on 7 March, Denis Lwamafa, commissioner for non-communicable diseases, said 280 cases had been recorded in the western Ugandan districts of Kasese, Buliisa, and eastern districts of Mbale, Bududa and Sironko. Others affected are Pallisa, Butaleja and Manafa districts.
The health ministry has opened two cholera referral and treatment centres in Namatala and Busiu in Mbale for eastern region.
Flood warnings have been issued in eastern Uganda, while mountainous areas such as Bududa and Bulambuli in the east and Rwenzori in western Uganda have a high chance of experiencing landslides.
Cholera is caused by vibrio cholera germs and it is transmitted by eating food contaminated with the pathogens that thrive in human faecal matter.
"Cholera is a serious acute infectious disease characterized by watery diarrhoea and vomiting and kills a person within hours," said Lwamafa in a statement.
"Other factors responsible for its spread include draining latrines into drainage channels, defecating in open places, eating food or drinks prepared under unhygienic conditions and poor personal hygiene," he said.
The ministry also warned that some districts had reported an increase in cases of typhoid and dysentery, which are transmitted in similar ways to cholera.
"As heavy rains come, we usually report a high number of water-related diseases. That is why we are alerting the public," Rukia Mbaziira, the Ministry of Health public relations officer, told IRIN.
"Surveillance and epidemiological programmes continue in the affected and neighbouring districts to detect cases for early treatment. The National Medical Stores has disbursed the necessary drugs to the affected districts in case more cases are reported," said Lwamafa.
Hygiene sensitization is a crucial component of the strategy to control the disease outbreak.
"The public is further urged to be vigilant and report all suspected cholera, typhoid, dysentery cases and other strange deaths to the nearest health facility. District health officers are urged to intensify public education programmes to prevent disease outbreaks," said the ministry.
According to the World Health Organization, cholera remains a global threat.