Cholera outbreak in Africa kills almost 2,500, UNICEF says

Cholera beds in Zimbabwe, to facilitate rehydration treatment.
cholera beds
Cholera beds in Zimbabwe.

(CBS/AP) An outbreak of cholera has claimed almost 2,500 lives, according to UNICEF, the United Nations' children's agency.

With more than 85,000 cases of cholera this year reported in 10 countries from Mali to Congo, "the region is facing one of the biggest epidemics in its history, the agency said. And UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said Tuesday that above-average rainfall predicted for the coming weeks raises the likelihood that cholera will continue to spread.

UNICEF said that up to 4.7 percent of cases are resulting in death. A "case fatality rate" of more than 1 per cent is usually considered very high.

Cholera is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera. It tends to occur in places with poor sanitation, crowding, war, and famine.

In addition to severe diarrhea, symptoms include abdominal cramps, dry skin and mucous membranes, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, and rapid heart rate. The goal of treatment - typically the administration of fluids orally or intravenously - is to replace fluid and electrolytes lost through diarrhea.

The World Health Organization has more on cholera.