Over 270 people have been infected with an unidentified virus potentially caused by toxic herbicides in Colombia’s southern department of Putumayo, declared emergency authorities Monday.
Father Julio Cesar Mora, spokesman appointed for the crisis, reported that those infected – many of whom are children – have gastroenteritis symptoms.
“Most patients are vomiting with fever and diarrhea and some have skin problems,” Mora described, adding that the number of villagers affected has risen by at least 48 cases since Sunday.
The priest explained in a report by newspaper El Espectador that 185 were admitted to the municipal hospital while 91 are being treated in two private medical centers.
“We do not know whether the cause is a food, contaminated water or the spraying [of coca fields with glyphosate],” admitted Mora, but it is thought to be due to the glyphosate fumes.
Glyphosate is a fierce herbicide sprayed from the air in Colombia to kill large plantations of illegal coca leaf.
The emergency started last Friday when an unusual number of patients began seeking healthcare in Putumayo. Fearing that the cause of the outbreak was contamination of an aqueduct, authorities shut off the local water supply.
However, the arrival of peasants with similar symptoms from surrounding rural areas with a separate water supply contradicted this theory.
The coordinator of the local Public Health Surveillance, Ruby Buelvas, confirmed that the cause of the epidemic can only be determined by epidemologists from Bogota who travelled to the region to assess the situation on Monday.