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Cholera cases reach 172, health ministry says

[Iraq] Basra cholera victims.
A child cholera victim from a previous outbreak of the disease in Basra (IRIN)

A cholera outbreak is continuing to spread in central and southern Iraq with 65 new cases registered over the past week, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 172, a health ministry spokesman said on 20 September.

"We have registered so far 172 confirmed cases of cholera in eight provinces: Babil 104 cases, Baghdad 42 cases, Karbala 17 cases, Basra three cases, Najaf two cases, Anbar 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.

Dozens of suspected cases are being tested, Jaafar added.

"We are still fighting the disease in the affected areas. We have no problem with the [availability of] medicines and the movement of our medical teams but we can't say that we will put an end to this disease as it is endemic in Iraq and the reasons behind it are still around," he told IRIN.

Despite 40 cases having been diagnosed in Babil Province last week, Jaafar said that ongoing awareness campaigns have helped limit watery diarrhoea cases, often associated with cholera.

He anticipated that new cholera cases would continue to occur in the country until the end of October as the disease's peak is in August, September and October.

According to Richard Finkelstein, the author of the Cholera, Vibrio cholerae O1 and O139, and Other Pathogenic Vibrios section in the Medical Microbiology textbook, 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.

Since the outbreak began in late August, five fatalities have been registered so far: 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.

Babil and Maysan are about 100km and 350km south of Baghdad respectively.

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

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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