GASTROENTERITIS EPIDEMIC THREATENS PALAU ECONOMY

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By Bernadette H. Carreon

KOROR (Palau Horizon, Jan. 3) - The number of gastroenteritis cases has reached a record high of 443 as of December 27, according to the Ministry of Health.

The number of cases included five tourists; it is not clear however whether they were ill upon their arrival or contracted the disease on the island.

The ministry said that the major concern now is more than just a health issue and that it can potentially become an economic issue if it is not contained.

The ministry further added that while they continue to monitor the number of cases that present themselves at the hospital and the dispensaries, these cases represent only about 10 percent of the actual number of persons that may be potentially infected.

Even with the low of reported cases, the illness has affected the entire island. The Belau National Hospital has in fact taken measures to cordon off the pediatric section of the medical ward for patients, both young and old, admitted with viral gastroenteritis. For the duration of their hospitalization, patients with this highly contagious infection will not be allowed visitors and will not be permitted to visit other areas of the hospital.

Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and sometimes fever with abdominal pain/cramps. The stool is usually watery and in severe cases may contain blood and/or mucus. The disease may last several days to a few weeks with average time being 4 to 7 days.

Currently there is a clustering of cases consistent with person-to-person transmission due to the very low infectious dose required. The mode of transmission is through improperly prepared food, unwashed hands, feces-contaminated food products, or flies.

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