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About 246,000 cases of cholera have occurred worldwide this year, more than 200,000 of them in Peru, the World Health Organization says.

Statistics released today by the U.N. agency showed 3,554 victims died from the dehydrating disease that is mainly spread through contaminated water.Latin America was the hardest hit.

Since the start of its epidemic in late February, Peru had reported 203,628 cases, including 1,726 deaths, the organization said. There had been 20,188 cases in Ecuador and 343 deaths.

It said 28 people had died in Colombia, where there were 456 confirmed and 1,336 probable cases by early June. Chile reported 40 cases with two deaths, and Brazil 15 cases and five deaths.

There were 14 incidents of cholera in the United States, it said.

Worldwide, 245,650 cases had been reported since the start of the year, the health organization said.

After Latin America, Africa reported the most cases. The organization said cholera had claimed the lives of 840 people in Zambia and the country had notified the Geneva-based agency of 10,906 cases.

There were 4,276 registered cases in Nigeria, 2,834 cases in Mozambique, 1,002 in Chad and 686 in Benin, it said.

In Iraq, 108 cases occurred from May 9-19, but no fatalities had been reported to the health organization, it said.