May 30 (UPI) -- A cholera outbreak that has sickened thousands in Yemen over the last seven months has also killed nearly 500 people, the United Nations' child welfare agency said Tuesday.
The outbreak was first reported in October and cholera has since been identified in 19 governorates, or territories. In a Facebook post Tuesday, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said about 53,000 cases have been identified.
"Yemen is in the grip of a fast-spreading cholera outbreak," UNICEF said, noting that hundreds have died as the result of "acute watery diarrhea."
"Yemenis are facing yet another major public health crisis amidst war and devastated social services."
The agency said 14,000 new cases have been diagnosed in the last two days. Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, is among the affected locations.
Nearly a third of the suspected cases involve children under the age of 5, UNICEF said.
Yemen's government has declared a state of emergency and has warned that cases could grow into the hundreds of thousands by the end of the year if substantial effort to fight the bacteria isn't taken.
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine by the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, which is found in seawater and other non-fresh water sources. The disease causes severe diarrhea, which can be deadly because it quickly dehydrates patients and leads to substantial electrolyte imbalance. Cholera is not uncommon in Yemen.
Humanitarian agencies continues to deliver aid supplies to the Middle Eastern nation in large-scale efforts to fight the disease and keep it from spreading.
Officials said although there are many cases, the growth appears to have slowed in recent weeks.
Yemen has also seen extensive fighting in a two-year civil war that officials say has only made health circumstances worse.