Cholera spreads through West African slums

A cholera outbreak is spreading through West Africa's coastal slums, including the capitals of Sierra Leone and Guinea, representing one of the worst regional outbreaks in recent memory.

More than 13,000 people have been admitted to hospitals in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Conakry, Guinea, as a result of the bacterial disease. Approximately 250 to 300 patients have died in the two cities, the New York Times reports.

Doctors Without Borders said that close to twice as many cholera cases have been reported in the two countries compared to last year, bringing back memories of the last major outbreak in the area in 2007.

Cholera is transmitted through contact with feces contaminated with the cholera bacteria. The spread of the disease was made worse this year because of a heavy rainy season that flooded shantytowns. Rains also contributed to deaths from cholera in Niger and Mali.

In many area slums, patients arrive at treatment centers in terrible condition.

"They come barely conscious because they are severely dehydrated," Natasha Reyes Ticzon, a cholera field coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Freetown, said, according to the New York Times. "We've had some deaths because they come too late."

Poor sanitary conditions in the impoverished region allow for the disease to spread freely throughout the water supply.

"If your area is flooded with rainwater, and if people are defecating in the open, it will get into the water supply," Jane Bevan, a regional sanitation specialist for Unicef, said, according to the New York Times. "We know governments have the money for other things. I'm afraid sanitation is never given the priority it deserves."