SANTIAGO, Chile, Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Chile's problems dealing with youth unrest over slow education reforms are being compounded by concerns the capital may be in the grip of a typhoid fever outbreak.
The government has battled to enforce restraint on law enforcement agencies amid angry student-led protests, which have disrupted urban centers across the country for more than a month.
The reforms demanded by youth groups are nowhere near being implemented and protests continue to simmer with support from teachers and workers unions.
Now authorities are faced with the more immediate risk of typhoid.
Health authorities issued repeated alerts for tougher hygiene checks and controls after they found several people infected and seriously ill with typhoid in the western metropolitan area of Santiago.
At least seven cases were confirmed by the Public Health Institute but there were no immediate reports of fatalities.
"Typhoid fever is an acute infectious disease triggered by a salmonella bacteria strain," Institute Director Maria Teresa Valenzuela said.
In most cases the infection is caused by consumption of contaminated food and drink or fruit and vegetables grown in areas where contaminated water is used in irrigation.
Typhoid fever produces symptoms of high fever, diarrhea or intense headaches.
The Santiago region has been prone to typhoid outbreaks since the 1990s when incidence of the disease caused up to 190 cases a year.
The San Juan de Dios hospital recorded most of the cases this year.
The typhoid outbreak adds to challenges facing President Sebastian Pinera's administration, which has seen its approval ratings slump amid raging controversies over inadequate reforms in an education system inherited by his administration.
After the high point in government popularity reached over the dramatic rescue of 33 miners in October last year, Pinera's government has faced one setback after another. The education reform protests have taken a heavy toll on Pinera's popularity.
The government was taken to task by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, of which Chile is the only South American member. OECD called Chile the most socioeconomically segregated country with limited and unequal education opportunities.
The annual study highlighted what has been one of the sore points with student protesters. Chile's private schools receive the most funding from the government yet the schools do the least to contribute to socioeconomic integration in Chile.
As a result, OECD said, the degree of integration of students of various socioeconomic backgrounds within a school is less than 50 percent, whereas the OECD average is 74.8 percent and top ranked are Finland and Norway with 89 percent.
Compared to the average OECD funding for universities, at 8 percent, Chile provides 21 percent of funds for its private universities.
The cost of a university education in Chile is rated to be the highest in the world taking into account the country's gross domestic product and per capita income.