Simultaneous outbreaks killing people might sound like a stretch for a Hollywood script, but it is all too real for the 6.3 million people of Papua New Guinea.

Voice of America reports 120 dead and thousands of others infected by diseases in the Morobe province on the country’s remote northern coast.  Cholera, influenza, and Shigella dysenteriae type 1 are the diseases making people in the South Pacific nation sick.

Past epidemics of S. dysenteriae type 1 in Africa and Central America had case fatality rates of 5-15 percent.  VOA reports, “a severe strain of dysentery has claimed 30 lives” in Papua New Guinea.

At the same time, 13 are dead from cholera and the seasonal influenza has taken another 60 lives.  Thousands are infected and the government has declared a public health emergency.

VOA says health officials in the country expect the situation to get much worse.  Doctors Without Borders, the international charity, has set up clinics in Lae, a regional city of 78,000.

Shigella spreads by the “fecal-oral” route from an infected person to someone else.  The bacterium is present in diarrheal stools of infected persons while they are ill and for a week or two afterward.  Most Shigella infections are the result of the bacterium passing from stools or soiled fingers of one person to the mouth of another person.  This happens when people cannot or won’t wash their hands.

In developing countries like Papua New Guinea, epidemics can be foodborne or waterborne.  Infected food handlers can contaminate fruits and vegetables and spread the disease to others.

Waters carrying sewage can contaminate crops in the fields.  Flies can breed in infected feces and contaminate food.  Swimming and drinking water can also be contaminated.

With the flu, Cholera, and Shigella all spreading in the isolated communities north of the nation’s capital of Port Moresby, poor transportation and shortages of medical personnel and supplies are going to make the next few weeks tough ones for PNG.

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.  It has a close relationship with Australia, which granted the country independence in 1975.