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Nigeria cholera death toll rises above 1,500: U.N.

LAGOS (Reuters) - Cholera has killed more than 1,500 people in Nigeria since January in one of the worst outbreaks in years, with heavy rains spreading the disease particularly in poor northern states, the United Nations said on Monday.

According to U.N. figures, 1,555 people have died from the disease in Africa’s most populous nation since January while 38,173 cases have been reported, Martin Dawes, regional spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told Reuters.

The figure is more than four times the death toll reported by the government in August. U.N. officials said the numbers were based on the latest reports from the World Health Organization, Red Cross and government agencies.

“The rains this year have been very severe ... (the outbreak) is considerably worse this year,” Paula Fedeski, spokeswoman for UNICEF in Nigeria, said.

The highest death tolls were in the northern states of Borno, Katsina and Bauchi although there were also cases in southern states including Rivers and Cross River in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Nigeria’s oil industry.

The number of reported cases so far this year is almost three times the number for the whole of 2009, although Fedeski said that was partly because of improved data collection.

Heavy rains and flooding in rural areas where safe drinking water and sanitary facilities are scarce have fueled the outbreak of the disease, which is generally spread through food and water contaminated with bacteria.

Nigeria’s Health Ministry said in August the death toll from an outbreak concentrated largely in the north had risen to 352, but warned of a nationwide risk.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall)

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