MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Authorities declared a cholera and leptospirosis epidemic Friday in three Nicaraguan counties hit hard by flooding from tropical storm Mitch, confirming fears that the storm's devastation will provoke more deaths--this time from disease.
Seven people have died and 361 others are ill from diseases that health authorities believe stem from polluted waters and rodents in urban areas in the aftermath of Mitch's flooding.
All the deaths, and 138 cases of illness, are thought to be caused by leptospirosis, a bacterium that attacks the respiratory system. Laboratory tests have confirmed 190 cases of cholera. Authorities suspect that 33 more ill people were also stricken with cholera.
Since Mitch swept through Central America three weeks ago, causing an estimated 10,000 deaths, public health officials have worried that a second phase of death would be unleashed by disease.
Especially in Nicaragua and Honduras, the two countries that suffered most from flooding and mudslides, doctors and nurses have been vaccinating residents against tetanus and have initiated public health campaigns to warn against using polluted water.
In addition, Nicaraguan Health Ministry workers have burned hundreds of corpses to avert illnesses caused by decomposing bodies.
Local medical authorities downplayed concerns about the outbreaks. "The situation is under control," said Dr. Maria Isabel Medrano, director of health services in Chinandega, one of the three Nicaraguan counties. "We have applied preventive measures."
Nevertheless, Nicaraguan Health Minister Marta McCoy said deteriorating sanitary conditions have resulted in outbreaks of contagious diseases.
Times staff writer Darling reported from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Acosta reported from Managua.
How to Help
Here are some organizations accepting financial contributions to assist Central American flood victims. Checks should be marked for Hurricane Mitch Relief Effort:
* International Medical Corps, 11500 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 506, Los Angeles, Calif. 90064 (800) 481-4462.
* The World Food Program, through the WFP Liaison Office, Two United Nations Plaza, Room No. DC2-2500, New York, N.Y. 10017; (212) 963-8364.
* The American Red Cross, 2700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90057, or credit card contributions can be made through (800) 435-7669; in Spanish, (800) 257-7575.
* CARE, 151 Ellis St. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30303-2426; (800) 422-7385.