Feature: People wear masks in quake-jolted Nepal amid growing fear of epidemic

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Many residents were seen wearing masks in the capital of Kathmandu, one of the worst-hit places in Nepal, as the deteriorating hygiene situation increased epidemic risks following a massive earthquake.

One week after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated the Himalayan country, UN chlidren's agency UNICEF warned the health and livelihood of children in Nepal were hanging in the balance as many had been left homeless, in deep shock and with no access to basic care.

With the monsoon season only a few weeks away, the children will face heightened risk of diseases like cholera and diarrhea infections, as well as being more vulnerable to the threat of landslides and floods.

Cases of dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis have already been reported although health workers are clearing rubbish and spraying disinfectants in make-shift tents and camps in the capital.

Bijay, a 12-year-old boy, was selling masks near the landmark Durbar Square in downtown Kathmandu. The boy, who himself was wearing a disposable mask, asked passersby if they were in need of masks.

"Only ten rupees and safe," he said. "My school is closed due to quake and I found it a good business nowadays."

"People are fearful of swine flu after the earthquake because many foreigners have reached the inner parts of our country," said Bijay.

"I have sold around 55 pieces yesterday and the business is increasing today," he added.

As residents of the once-crowded capital were gathering in open spaces with only few clothes and limited food, chances of water- and air-borne diseases were increasing, medical professionals have warned.

"People are in grounds under open sky with garbage disposed nearby. They are out of access of masks. They also lack nutritious food and drinking water which can lead to the eruption of communicable diseases," said Girwan Timalsena of Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital.

The capital has been messy with the debris of damaged buildings and garbage on the streets. A packet of instant noodle has been an easy accessible food for many as they have been staying outdoors.

Bijay said that radio and televisions channels were advising people to wear masks to become safe from possible epidemics.

"The selling has increased by two-fold," said Sunil Kumar, who was also selling masks near Tundikhel, one of the largest residential camps for quake victims.

"I am from India and selling masks on footpaths for three years, " said the 20-year-old young man. "My suffering from quake is healing by my increasing business."

Kathmandu has witnessed an exodus of residents returning to their rural hometowns, many of them fearing that the capital will be gripped by a health epidemic.

Death toll from the powerful quake on April 25 has climbed to 7, 000 as rescuers and medics are scrambling to avoid a second tragedy like the cholera outbreak that killed thousands more in Haiti after an earthquake in 2010. Endi

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