Cholera Outbreak in Afghan Capital

The Afghan capital is on the verge of a cholera (search) epidemic, with more than 2,000 cases of the disease and at least eight deaths reported in recent weeks, a health expert warned Tuesday.

Afghanistan's Health Ministry (search) on Monday confirmed up to 300 cases, but claimed they have been dealt with and there had been no fatalities. It said there was no risk of the disease spreading.

But on Tuesday, Fred Hartman (search), technical director for a USAID-backed health and development program, told The Associated Press that eight or nine people had died in the past two weeks, and warned the disease could spread quickly throughout the city's 4 million population.

"An epidemic is about to break out here. Over two thousand cases have been reported so far," said Hartman, who has been involved with efforts to contain the outbreak.

"There are always deaths with cholera," he said.

Cholera is a major killer in developing countries, where it is spread mainly through contaminated food or water. The bacterium attacks the intestine and causes severe diarrhea and dehydration.

The warning was in stark contrast to Health Ministry official Ahmid Shah Shukomand's (search) claim Monday that the outbreak had been contained.

"We had about 200 to 300 cases, but they were discharged from hospitals after treatment," Shukomand said.

He said authorities had launched a campaign urging people to boil drinking water, wash vegetables before eating them and regularly wash hands. Health ministry workers have chlorinated wells throughout the city, he added.