Diarrhoea outbreak in Cape Town

A diarrhoea outbreak in Cape Town has resulted in the deaths of at least two children and the treatment of more than 2,800 others at the city's hospitals and clinics.

Almost 300 children were admitted to Red Cross Children's Hospital in Rondebosch between last November and December, while more than 2,500 children were treated at local clinics with moderate to severe dehydration due to diarrhoea, according to figures released by the city's mayoral committee for health.

Committee spokesman Sandile Bontsa said that the outbreak had claimed the lives of two children under the age of five years of age but only 57 children out of 2,519 were treated for severe dehydration. However he said there had been a slight increase in the number of diarrhoea cases seen in children this season compared to the same period in 2011-2012.  

Diarrhoea outbreaks in South Africa generally coincide with the onset of summer, around November, and peak in February and March. The heat causes bacteria to breed which can trigger serious gastric illnesses. Bontsa said that residents of settlements with poor sanitation are particularly at risk.

Depending on the severity of the case and the level of care required, it could cost up to R14,000 ($1,600)to treat a patient, particularly if there are complications. However if the case is caught in time and treated with a simple sugar and salt solution at clinics the expense is “almost negligible” according to Bontsa, but once cases are admitted to hospital the costs increase significantly.