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Rainy season to aggravate Chad cholera outbreak

N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - The death toll from an outbreak of cholera in Chad has risen above 100, authorities said, while aid group Oxfam warned it could leap further this month with the onset of the rainy season.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by food or water contaminated with bacteria, prompting diarrhea and vomiting. Infected people can die of dehydration, sometimes within a matter of hours, if left untreated.

A total 102 have died from the outbreak so far, a health ministry official said by telephone.

"We are concerned that the rainy season is arriving and that can provoke a quick and catastrophic rise in the number of cases," Oxfam country director Abakar Mahamat said.

Chad's cholera epidemics usually occur in rainy seasons when houses and latrines flood and contaminated water collects in stagnant pools. Last year, more than 6,800 people were infected and 209 died from the disease, while the country's August and September floods were the country's worst in 40 years.

"Two weeks ago, there was an average of 20 patients per day. Now we are seeing five or six patients a day. We hope the situation is about to stabilize," Innocent Hountento, a doctor at one treatment center south of the capital N'djamena said.

Despite oil reserves estimated at 1.5 billion barrels, Chad remains one of the poorest countries in the world with average income per head of around $3 a day, according to the World Bank.

The majority of Chad's population drinks water from open wells or rivers, water that is often not safe for drinking due to the risk of various waterborne diseases.

Only 0.6 percent of households use proper latrines, while 88 percent defecate in the open, according to the government. There is no garbage collection system in villages and waste water disposal is nearly non-existent in most towns.

"Huge efforts should be made by the government of Chad to provide water and sanitation services to the population," Oxfam's Mahamat said.

The government last year appealed for $870 million from donors to fund a seven-year plan to tackle the country's water and sanitation problems.

(Reporting by Madjiasra Nako in N'Djamena and George Fominyen for AlertNet in Dakar; Editing by Mark John and Elizabeth Fullerton)