The death toll from an outbreak of cholera and other water-borne stomach diseases in eastern India rose to 186 Wednesday, with thousands of people still being treated, officials said.
Officials in three affected districts -- some 500 kilometres (310 miles) southwest of impoverished Orissa state's capital, Bhubaneswar -- supplied the toll, disputed by opposition parties and aid workers, who quote higher numbers.
In Rayagada district, 78 people have died since the outbreak of cholera last month, the district's top medical officer P. Sitaram said Wednesday, adding that more villages were reporting cases.
"We have reports of 79 deaths related to cholera and gastroenteritis," Balakrushna Sahoo told AFP.
And in adjacent Kalahandi district, 29 cholera deaths have been reported so far, officials said.
A health control room in Bhubaneswar set up to monitor the outbreak of water-borne diseases said more than 5,000 people were being treated for cholera and other stomach diseases, according to a government spokesman.
Representatives of the ActionAid development group in Orissa have challenged the figures being put out by officials, saying the death toll is closer to 250, while state opposition parties put it at almost 500.
"The Orissa government is using the term gastroenteritis to cover up deaths due to cholera," said Bijoy Mohapatra, chief of the Orissa Gana Parishad (Orissa Peoples' Forum), a regional political party.