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Outbreaks hit Papua New Guinea

14th September 2009

Outbreaks of influenza, cholera, and diarrhoea in Papua New Guinea have killed more than 100 people and infected at least 5,000.

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The outbreaks, which began in August, have mainly affected the remote highlands of the country and parts of the northern coast, though they have also spread to the city of Lae, a regional capital.

Since some of the areas are so remote that they can only be reached on foot or by helicopter, health officials believe that the number of infected people may be higher than 5,000.

The number of confirmed cases of seasonal influenza is 4,600, with 56 deaths.

Of 274 confirmed cases of cholera, there have been 21 confirmed deaths, and 39 deaths from diarrhoea caused by the shigella bacteria.

Shigella is a bacteria similar in its effects to E coli.

It usually infects humans by the faecal-oral route, and ten bacterial cells can be enough to cause what is ultimately a medical emergency.

The cholera outbreak is thought to be the first of its kind in Papua New Guinea, and the strain causing the infections is common to Southeast Asia.

Vanessa Cramond, national medical director with aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), said that many cholera sufferers in Papua New Guinea find themselves ostracised and unable to take public transport to go to the doctor.

She said that most of the people in the country have no idea what cholera is and do not know how to respond to it.

Papua New Guinea is a country in Oceania, comprising the eastern half of the island of New Guinea as well as many offshore islands.

One of the most diverse countries on Earth, with over 850 indigenous languages and traditional societies, the majority of people there live in traditional societies outside urban centres.

Its diverse, uneven geography has made it difficult for the country to develop transport infrastructure. 

 

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