HARARE - A total of 200 students at Peterhouse Boys School in Marondera have contracted collective diarrhoea, authorities confirmed on Tuesday.
The transmission mode has remained largely unknown so far but an immediate epidemiological investigation is being conducted to identify it.
Peterhouse is widely regarded as Zimbabwe’s top independent boarding school and one of the premier independent schools in southern Africa.
Since last week, students at the Anglican Christian boarding school developed symptoms with stomachache and diarrhoea.
The school is situated on two estates on either side of the main road between Harare and Mutare just outside Marondera and share two conservation areas, Calderwood Park and Gosho Park.
As of Tuesday, at least 200 students had been confirmed with the infectious diarrhoea at the boarding school.
The infected students have been sent for medical observation at home.
Authorities have conducted a comprehensive disinfection in the campus. Investigations into the incident are underway.
While food being cooked is proper, the source of the outbreak may be the water, according to officials.
This comes as Zimbabwe has recorded 12 confirmed cholera cases in the last two weeks alone, raising fears that the disease could yet strike again with a vengeance.
Peterhouse Boys, caters for approximately 500 boys from Form 1 to 6, all of whom are full-boarders.
One Peterhouse employee who spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity, said: “Children went home sometime back but some are returning. Maybe it is due to the chemicals that are used on the grounds that contaminated the water.”
A parent who declined to be named said his child had earlier refused to come home because he had not yet been affected.
But a fortnight ago, the boy had to be rushed to a Harare private hospital for treatment of diarrhoea and vomiting.
“We had heard of the cases at the school but only acted when our son called complaining of stomach cramps and diarrhoea,” the parent said.
Peterhouse rector, Howard Blackett, could not be reached for comment.
David Parirenyatwa, the minister of Health and Child Care, told the Daily News that the disease outbreak was not cholera.
“Right now I am in Japan but I was informed of the Peterhouse case. I am waiting for the full report of what is going on at the school,” Parirenyatwa said.
He said a team from the ministry of Health was investigating to find out whether the source of the diarrhoea was food poisoning or contaminated water.
Parirenyatwa said the bulk of the pupils were taken to Borradaile Hospital in Marondera for treatment.
Many Zimbabweans, particularly in urban areas where the water and sanitation infrastructure has collapsed completely, as well as communities along the country’s border with Mozambique were cholera is wreaking havoc, worry that President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government has no capacity to stem the spread of the disease if it breaks out full scale.
About 5 000 confirmed cases and nearly 50 deaths have been reported in Mozambique since last Christmas, with observers saying the figures could be much higher given the difficulty of obtaining accurate information from the country’s remote rural areas.