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Five die in Benin cholera outbreak

The first cases of the potentially fatal disease were spotted last month, in the town of Bonou, just outside the west African country’s economic capital Cotonou.  By the end of the month, 66 cases of the disease had been logged in the town, according to the Health Ministry. Three cases and one death were also recorded in Cotonou, said the Ministry's director of sanitation Laurent Assogba.

The outbreak is rare, because Cholera usually spreads during the rainy season when flooding can contaminate water sources. Cholera in the dry season is uncommon but it does happen, The World Health Organization (WHO) says. "Cholera is not transmitted only via water during heavy rains," the organisation’s Aristide Roch Sossou, who is based in Benin, told the United Nations news service,IRIN. "Foods kept in unhygienic conditions and dirty hands are also factors favouring cholera bacteria." In severe cases, cholera produces violent diarrhoea within only a few days. The dangerous effect is the vast loss of fluid that can happen in a short space of time. It's particularly dangerous in children in developing countries and Benin is ranked among the world’s poorest. If left untreated, the loss of fluid can be fatal within 24 hours of developing the disease.

Studies are now being carried out to find what triggered the outbreak and how it spread. "We have no evidence for the causes of cholera during dry season," said WHO cholera expert Claire-Lise Chaignat. "It may well be that the vibrio germ is being introduced by contaminated people, or it could be present in boreholes," she added. People are being advised by the Health Ministry to be extra careful. Anyone in and around Bonou, who has vomiting or diarrhoea is advised to go straight to a health centre. Health workers are also telling people to maintain proper hygiene standards including thoroughly washing their hands and food.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last month announced a three-year grant of $4.9m (£3m) to support cholera prevention and control in Africa, PRnewswire said. It will be used to set up an African Cholera Surveillance Network (AFRICHOL) to strengthen cholera surveillance and outbreak response in at least eight African countries including Benin. In 2009 during the rainy season at least 70 people died of cholera in Benin, according to the Health Ministry.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children