The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday urged people visiting Vietnam to be on the alert as a cholera outbreak in the middle of last month had expanded to 16 provinces and infected at least 121 people.
Chou Chih-hao (周志浩), deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control, said that with the increasing exchanges between Taiwan and Vietnam, people visiting the Southeast Asian country should wash their hands frequently and refrain from eating uncooked food.
Chou said that cholera cases, including fatalities, had been reported mainly in 10 areas in northern Vietnam, including Hanoi and Hai Phong.
Chou said Vietnamese health authorities had found vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes the disease, in rivers, ponds and vegetables.
He said that Taiwan had no reported cases of cholera for two consecutive years and only reports of chronic cases over the past decade.
Chou said the department had to issue an alert because Taiwanese businesspeople are major investors in Vietnam and Vietnamese nationals are the biggest group of foreign spouses in Taiwan.
Cholera is an acute type of gastroenteritis caused by the bacterium vibrio cholerae. The bacterial infection of the small intestines can be mild with no symptoms, but in severe cases it can cause massive diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps.
Approximately one in 20 infected persons develop the severe form of the disease and the rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours, as cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known.
Late last year, more than 300 people were infected with cholera in an outbreak that hit 11 provinces in northern Vietnam, prompting local authorities to ban a popular fermented shrimp paste, which was blamed for half of the cases.
No one reportedly died from the outbreak last year, although health officials warned that dehydration could kill some patients if not treated immediately.
“The situation is dangerous, and the possibility that the outbreak will further expand to other provinces is very high,” said Nguyen Huy Nga, director of Vietnam’s Ministry of Heath’s Preventive Medicine Department said yesterday.
Nga said the cause of the outbreak’s spread was contaminated water sources, leading to the contamination of food, especially vegetables.
“Many people don’t have hygienic toilets, and others defecate into rivers or in the fields, resulting in the spread of the bacteria,” Nga said. “It’s more difficult to contain the situation in the countryside, where farmers use human feces to fertilize vegetables.”