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Cholera spreads in Iraq

9th October 2007

An outbreak of cholera in Iraq has now infected thousands of people after the disease was first discovered there in mid-August.

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So far, 14 people are known to have died of the water-borne bacterial disease. More than 30,000 have fallen ill with acute watery diarrhoea.

Among them, a total of 3,315 cases have been confirmed as Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium which causes the disease.

The disease has spread to nine of the country's 18 province since being discovered in the northern province of Kirkuk on 14 August.

The majority of confirmed cholera cases have been in Kirkuk (2,309 cases) and Sulaymaniah (870 cases), and the infection rate is continuing to rise.

An increasing number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea has been reported in Diala province, which neighbours the capital, Baghdad. While cholera has yet to be confirmed in laboratory tests, the symptoms of the disease have already been observed there.

So far, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the mortality rate in this outbreak has been low.

Authorities have mounted a strong response to the outbreak, putting in place control and preventive measures to contain the outbreak.

But they are battling a poor quality water and sanitation system, which is how the disease usually spreads.

The WHO said it was preparing a shipment of five million water treatment tablets to Iraq, and would also send two international epidemiologists to help health officials there.

"Neighbouring countries are encouraged to reinforce their active surveillance and preparedness systems. Mass chemoprophylaxis is strongly discouraged, as it has no effect on the spread of cholera, can have adverse effects by increasing antimicrobial resistance and provides a false sense of security," WHO said in a statement.

The WHO said it did not recommend the use of the current oral vaccine once an outbreak had started, nor did it recommend the use of the parenteral cholera vaccine, which had a high incidence of adverse reactions and low efficacy.

 

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