First cholera case confirmed in Baghdad

The World Health Organization confirmed on Thursday the first cholera case in Baghdad since 2003, raising fears the disease is spreading from the north of the country where it has struck more than 1,000 people.

First cholera case confirmed in Baghdad
The World Health Organization confirmed on Thursday the first cholera case in Baghdad since 2003, raising fears the disease is spreading from the north of the country where it has struck more than 1,000 people.

A 25-year-old woman from eastern Baghdad was found to have cholera after she turned up at a hospital with severe diarrhea, said Dr. Naeema al-Gasseer, the WHO's representative in Iraq.

Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease that is typically spread by drinking contaminated water and can cause severe diarrhea that, in extreme cases, can lead to fatal dehydration.

The disease broke out in Iraq in mid-August, but had been confined to northern Iraq, affecting the provinces of Sulaimaniyah, Irbil and Tamim, which is home to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. At least 10 people have died, according to WHO.

Several suspected cholera cases also have been reported in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, but al-Gasseer said none had been confirmed.

Cholera is endemic to Iraq, with about 30 cases registered each year. But the last time there was an epidemic in the country was in 1999 when 20 cases were discovered in one day, said Adel Muhsin, the Health Ministry's inspector-general.

Al-Gasseer said health authorities were concerned the disease could spread because of the movement of people within Iraq's borders. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have been forced to flee their homes because of violence.

A disease that would otherwise be easily treatable has been made all the more dangerous because of Iraq's precarious security situation following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"We need to look at safe water, safe import of food, hygiene, the network of water and the network of sewage disposal," al-Gasseer said in a telephone interview.

The latest WHO report dated Sept. 14 reported a total of 24,532 cases of people with symptoms of cholera such as diarrhea and vomiting in the northern provinces. Out of those, laboratory tests have confirmed 1,055 cases of cholera.

It said 10 people have died — nine in Sulaimaniyah and one in Tamim.

Al-Gasseer also said some 100,000 tons of chlorine were being held up at Iraq's border with Jordan, apparently because of fears the chemical could be used in explosives. She urged authorities to release it for use in decontaminating water supplies.

Insurgents in the country staged several chlorine truck bombings this year, killing scores of Iraqis.

Muhsin confirmed such concerns were holding up the border shipment but said he was told the problem was solved and that the chlorine would arrive soon. Chlorine will be added in higher doses to Baghdad's water supply as a precaution against cholera, Muhsin said.

His teams recently tested drinking water across the capital and discovered chlorine levels on 20 locations were inadequate to prevent cholera. Also, several ice factories were closed in Iraq because of cholera concerns, he said.

The Health Ministry would continue checking drinking water in all Iraqi cities, Muhsin told The Associated Press, and teams would inspect ice factories and ice cream makers.

Each hospital in Iraq set up a special ward for diarrhea-stricken patients and the Health Ministry also launched an ad campaign, with 250,000 posters and 5 million leaflets printed to "educate and warn the people about cholera," Muhsin said.

AP
Last Mod: 21 Eylül 2007, 11:59
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