Number of cholera cases nearly doubles

More than 300 confirmed cholera cases have been registered in central and southern Iraq since an outbreak began on 20 August, with almost 50 percent of the cases occurring in the past week, the health ministry's cholera unit has said.

"The number of cholera cases has reached 327 in nine provinces: Babil 200 cases, Baghdad 61 cases, Basra 29 cases, Karbala 26 cases, Anbar four cases, Najaf three cases, Diwaniya two cases, Diyala one case and Maysan one case," said Ihsan Jaafar, director-general of the public health directorate and spokesman for the ministry's cholera control unit.

Jaafar told IRIN that no new cholera-related deaths had occurred to add to the already registered five fatalities: a 10-year-old girl and a 61-year-old man in Babil province; a three-year-old boy in Maysan; and an adult and child in Baghdad.

However, he said dozens of new suspected cases were being tested.

On 21 September, Jaafar anticipated that new cholera cases would continue to occur in the country until the end of October - as the disease peaks in August, September and October - despite ongoing awareness and medical campaigns.

According to Richard Finkelstein, co-author of Medical Microbiology, the disease occurs primarily during summer, possibly reflecting the increased presence of the organism in the marine environment during those months, as well as the enhanced opportunity for it to multiply in unrefrigerated foods.

The Iraqi Health Ministry and the World Health Organization have blamed the country's rundown water and sanitation infrastructure for the outbreak.

Cholera is a gastro-intestinal disease typically spread by contaminated water. It can cause severe diarrhoea, which in extreme cases can lead to fatal dehydration. It can be prevented by treating drinking water with chlorine and by improving hygiene conditions.