Health officials were insisting last week a cholera outbreak in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township was under control, after hundreds of patients presented at an emergency clinic and Thingangyun Sanpa Hospital for treatment.
The outbreak had originally been diagnosed as gastroenteritis but Dr Tin Thit Sa, an epidemiologist with the Yangon Region health department, said testing of water samples at the National Health Laboratory had discovered coliform and Vibrio cholerae bacteria in the township’s water supply.
Health authorities have already opened a 24-hour clinic to provide treatment and hospital referrals.
Between September 27 and October 8, 380 patients sought treatment at the clinic, of which 234 tested positive for cholera and 41 were referred to hospital for treatment, said township administrator U Aung Moe Win.
He said some of the patients were recovering, but new victims were still coming forward. Sufferers are complaining of diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain, and the Ministry of Health is urging anyone with similar symptoms to present themselves to their nearest government health centre as soon as possible.
The township authorities announced the closure of food and drink shops in the area on September 29. Shops that reopened were forcibly closed in the days after the outbreak but have since been allowed to reopen, with the township administration office and health authorities conducting hygiene checks each morning.
Also on September 29, 14 workers at the Haewae garment factory in South Okkalapa complained of diarrhoea, and two attended hospital, said factory manger Ko Myo Naing. “We tell our staff to wash their hands, and the township health authority has advised that anyone who feels sick should go to the clinic,” he said.
Dr Nan Win Myint, a deputy director of the Ministry of Health’s Disease Control Department, said that it was one of the larger outbreaks of cholera in Yangon in recent years, but could not provide specific figures.
Township health officer Dr Aye Aye Moe said poor sanitation, overcrowding and lack of clean drinking water were likely to blame. She said authorities were responding by chlorinating water, providing information on food safety and improving sanitation through better waste management, such as fly-proof toilets.
Retired medical superintendent Dr Ba Shwe said cholera was not uncommon in Myanmar and normally occurred at the start or end of rainy season.
He said the disease can spread very quickly, as flies can transmit it from one area to another, and so it was important the authorities respond quickly.
Cholera outbreaks really cause headaches for township officials,” he said. “The government needs to build fly-proof toilets and should give health knowledge to residents.”
He said residents could protect themselves by being extra careful about personal hygiene, particularly washing their hands before eating and after using the toilet. Food and drink should be covered to stop it being contaminated by flies, while water should be boiled or chlorinated to ensure it is safe.