A STRAIN of the bacteria that causes cholera has been found in floodwater and soil samples in the Medolino valley.
A Rhodes University pharmaceutical biochemistry research scientist, Roman Tandlich, found vibrio cholerae among other bacteria in samples he took in November, after pumping of floodwater out of the valley was discontinued.
He did the tests after being approached by residents concerned over the sewage-polluted floodwater.
His initial tests found an e.coli count of more than 100 000 cells per 100ml in a water sample from the flooded area, which covered 17.2ha.
In a risk evaluation accompanying his initial results, he said there was a “high risk of waterborne disease upon contact” and recommended any contact with the floodwater should be avoided and that clean-up personnel should wear the full-body protective gear.
He made further comprehensive tests for the presence of the cholera bacteria and in findings released on January 4, said there was a 77% likelihood of vibrio cholerae in a soil sample and a 66% likelihood that it was present in a floodwater sample.
Tandlich also took municipal tapwater samples and found low risk of faecal contamination, but recommended chlorination of the pipes was urgent.
He took additional samples this week, to confirm his results. He said he would also submit his results to the Department of Water Affairs. In the meantime, he said people should avoid contact with puddles and damp soil in the Medolino area.
Sunshine was the best thing to kill the bug, he said.
“I don’t want to cause a panic,” he stressed. “I need to make sure all my data is rigidly verified.”
He also said any risk of a cholera outbreak was limited to the Medolino area.
In interviews with residents, Tandlich found there had been a number of cases of diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps and rashes on arms and legs.
“It could be cholera causing the symptoms, but I’m not 100% sure,” he said. “A skin rash is not a symptom of cholera. Diarrhoea, vomiting and severe dehydration are symptoms.”
Ward 10 councillor Ross Purdon said he was “deeply concerned”.
“It’s my ward. We’ve got to monitor it,” he said.
In an e-mail exchange between Purdon and the directorate of community protection services, of which TotT has a copy, the director’s personal assistant Jackie Nel said Tandlich’s test results needed to be provided under Rhodes University’s official letterhead.
“We will take samples of the same area, and send to the same lab to be tested, as well as to another alternative, lab. If the lab originally used by the institution (in this case, Rhodes), is not accredited, we will not use them,” Nel wrote.
Tandlich acknowledged the Rhodes lab was not accredited, “but it doesn’t invalidate my findings”.
Municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa said municipal officials had met with Tandlich and Purdon on Tuesday.
“We are concerned about the matter,” said Mbolekwa.
He confirmed further samples would be taken.
Tandlich said further comprehensive tests would cost between R10 000 and R20 000, for which he had no budget, but Purdon expressed hope the Department of Water Affairs would cover these costs.