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A deadly cholera epidemic that spread from neighboring Peru has killed two people in Ecuador, but is now under control, the government has said.

However, Health Minister Plutarco Naranjo said the southern province of El Oro, where the cholera surfaced, will remain an emergency health zone.The epidemic, the first in the Western Hemisphere since the beginning of the century, began in northern Peru in late January, and has killed 300 people there. Ecuador is the only other country in South America to have reported cases of the intestinal disease.

It was believed to have been transmitted to Ecuador by Peruvian fishermen.

"Preventive health measures have allowed us to tackle this terrible disease with success," Naranjo told reporters Thursday night after touring southern coastal towns where the first cases were detected on March 1.

The towns - Machala, La Puntilla and Bajo Alto - are in a farming region in Elo Oro province, about 30 miles north of Peru.

But Naranjo warned that the population should not relax health precautions, such as boiling drinking water and maintaining strict hygiene, especially in rural areas. The disease is commonly transmitted through contact with feces.

Two people, a middle-aged woman and a 1-year-old girl, died when they did not receive medical attention in time, Naranjo said. He added that 41 other patients had been treated and recovered.

Since January, nearly 300 Peruvians have died out of 55,000 reported cases. On Feb. 11, the World Health Organization said it was very probable that the epidemic had spread to nations bordering Peru.