Cholera deaths rise to eight as disease spreads

About 500 confirmed cholera cases have been registered in Iraq since the latest outbreak of the disease on 20 August. Eight people have died, a government spokesman said on 14 October.

“So far there have been 479 cases in 12 provinces: Babil 230 cases, Baghdad 73, Diwaniyah 61, Basra 50, Karbala 39, Najaf nine, Anbar eight, Maysan three, Arbil two, Samawa two, Kut one and Diyala one," said Ihsan Jaafar, director-general of the public health directorate and a spokesman for the ministry's cholera control unit.

Jaafar told IRIN cholera-related deaths had reached eight, with two new death cases in Qadissiyah and Babil provinces south of Baghdad.

Those who have died of the disease are a 10-year-old girl, a 61-year-old man, a child over five in Babil Province, two children under five in Qadissiyah Province; a three-year-old boy in Maysan; and an adult and a child in Baghdad.

Spreading north?

There is evidence of the disease spreading north: two cases were confirmed in Arbil, a city some 350km north of Baghdad. The disease was previously confined to central and southern Iraq.

"We are continuing to intensify our measures in all fields such as raising awareness among residents, and monitoring restaurants and food and drinks-related factories and stores; we have already closed a number of them and destroyed tonnes of material," Jaafar said.

According to Richard Finkelstein, co-author of Medical Microbiology, cholera occurs primarily during the summer months, possibly reflecting the increased presence of the organism in rivers and lakes during these 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. Treating drinking water with chlorine and improving hygiene conditions can prevent the disease.

sm/ar/cb