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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, April 17) – Almost nine thousand villagers are at imminent risk of catching typhoid from contaminated water supplies.

[PIR editor’s note: According to the U.S. Department of Health’s Center for Disease Control, typhoid fever is a life threatening illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella enterica, and claims the lives of an estimated 200,000 individuals each year. There are two available vaccines currently being used to prevent it in the U.S.]

Tests have confirmed that all water sources in the Natewa Bay and Buca Bay area carry the bacteria that causes the disease.

Health authorities have banned all gatherings of people to try to minimise the spread of the disease which has already killed one man and infected 65 other people.

The Central and Eastern divisions have been placed on alert for typhoid, dengue fever and leptospirosis, following the outbreak in the North.

Ministry of Health national advisor on family health Doctor Josaia Samuela said 65 cases of typhoid fever, 34 cases of dengue fever and 22 cases of leptospirosis had been reported in the Northern Division.

Health teams had been sent to carry out typhoid tests on everyone.

The Health Ministry has banned all functions traditional, church or private in the Natewa and Buca Bay areas.

Tests on water samples from three sources and tanks in the 12 villages and 42 settlements of Natewa Bay and other villages in Buca Bay confirmed the presence of the bacteria.

The health department in Cakaudrove confirmed all water sources in the area were contaminated.

Sub-divisional medical officer Doctor Mohammed Ishaque said the result was a worry as they worked with police and State officials to fight the outbreak.

Dr Ishaque urged the 3500 villagers of Buca Bay and 5000 villagers of Natewa to boil all drinking water and to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.

"It is a serious matter and we are concerned about the lives of the villagers as the water sources, including the rivers, are contaminated," he said.

"We have put a stop to all functions because that is one of the major ways of spreading typhoid through food preparation," he said.

Northern Division police media liaison officer Ajay Nand said villages in the Tunuloa District at risk of contracting typhoid were Bala Settlement, Salia, Navetau, Wailevu, Muana and Qaravutu; Buca Village in the Natewa District and Nanovu Settlement in Cakaudrove-i-vanua District.

"The recent death of 32-year-old school teacher Iliesa Ralala of Wailevu District School in Tunuloa, prompted medical authorities to conduct investigations into the matter," Sergeant Nand said.

"This has resulted in the closure of Wailevu District School and the discovery of existing threat of disease outbreak in the remote area of Tunuloa and Natewa District."

Dr Ishaque said they had advised the Methodist Church to postpone a conference planned for Natewa.

He said the health department was working with the chefs of all restaurants and hotels in Savusavu conducting tests as food preparation was a major way of spreading typhoid.

Dr Ishaque said a team was sent over the weekend to take samples of water from the area.

"We have received the results of the water samples and they have confirmed presence of bacteria.

"That is why we had an urgent meeting this morning with the police and the Roko Tui Cakaudrove to discuss ways of dealing with the situation.

"As a result of that meeting, we have organised two teams that will leave for the affected areas today," Dr Ishaque said.

He said a team of nine members would visit the Natewa Bay area while the second team of five would visit the Buca Bay area. Dr Ishaque said they were liaising with the Red Cross on possible donations of water to the affected areas.

"After the flood in February, parts of Cakaudrove that were affected received cartons of Fiji Water bottles from the Red Cross so we are hoping for a similar kind of donation," he said.

"But, since the weekend, we have not received any new cases from the affected areas in Natewa."

Seventeen cases of typhoid from Wailevu Village, Tunuloa, were reported to the Savusavu Hospital last week. Six cases have been confirmed as typhoid and three people have been sent home. Eight other cases are to be confirmed.

So far, there have been 44 typhoid cases in Macuata and 20 in Cakaudrove.

Dr Samuela said yesterday in response to the possible outbreak of dengue, typhoid and leptospirosis, the Ministry of Health had put out prevention messages through the media.

He said even though the Colonial War Memorial Hospital had not been able to release figures for the number of patients seen, reports from medical officers in other health facilities in the Central Division showed very few cases of typhoid fever less than five for January and February 2007.

He said only dengue was caused by a virus, while typhoid and leptospirosis were caused by bacteria.

"As part of our response to these outbreaks, the Ministry of Health has been putting out media messages on prevention and more seriously on the positive behaviour for people to adopt, like personal hygiene, taking protective measures like proper hand washing, disposal of items that allow mosquitoes to breed and to avoid walking bare-footed outside.

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