KENYA: Dysentery outbreak kills 13 children in northeast
NAIROBI, 16 May (IRIN) -

An outbreak of dysentery in northeastern Kenya's Mandera District has claimed the lives of 13 children over the past two weeks, health officials said on Tuesday, blaming the epidemic on contamination of water sources during the current rainy season, which follows a severe drought in the remote, arid area.

"Ten of the children died in the villages. They did not even make it to health centres," said James Kisia, a doctor who heads the health section at Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). He said all the fatalities had occurred in the Kotulo area of El Wak division in southern Mandera. Several cases had also been reported in Rhamu division in the northern area of the district.

Thousands of livestock in Mandera and the neighbouring Wajir districts died during the drought, and the fields were littered with rotting carcasses when the rains started to fall.

"Many of the carcasses were washed into water pans, where they created a good environment for bacteria to breed. Human waste also flowed into the water, which was subsequently used by the people," said Kisia, noting that communities in the affected area - most of them nomadic pastoralists - had few latrines, a fact that created a major sanitation problem, especially during the rainy season.

Most of the children died of dehydration, as dysentery causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

Kisia said the KRCS has sent two vehicles loaded with medical kits and water purification tablets to the affected villages. Four nurses, two public health officers and a team leader had also been dispatched to the area to work with local health officials attempting to contain the outbreak.

In its hygiene and sanitation public awareness campaign, KRCS is targeting the parents of an estimated 52,000 children under the age of five in Mandera. Children under five were the most vulnerable to the disease because they were more likely to drink contaminated water, Kisia said.

Symptoms of bacteria-caused dysentery infection include abdominal cramps, frequent small volume bloody stools and mucoid discharge. It is transmitted from person to person and outbreaks are associated with low standards of sanitation and hygiene.