14 September 2007 The number of people struck by a cholera outbreak in Northern Iraq has doubled to 16,000 people but the death toll remains the same at 10, the United Nations health agency reported today.
“The good news was that, although the disease has spread, the number of deaths has remained the same,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Fadéla Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.
That is an indication that the measures taken to deal with the outbreak are having an effect, she said.
WHO’s representative for Iraq, who is normally based in Amman, has made a number of trips to the north of Iraq as well as to Baghdad to talk to the authorities and coordinate with them on this issue.
WHO has also pre-positioned 10 Interagency Diarrhoeal Disease kits, each with the capacity to treat 100 severe cases, in order to ensure adequate supplies of essential drugs and other medical and laboratory supplies.
Between 23 August and 10 September, at least 6,000 people have been reported with diarrhoeal diseases in Sulemaniya province and almost 7,000 in Kirkuk province. Since 6 September the outbreak has spread to Erbil province, causing at least 3,000 cases. On Monday WHO put the number of infected at over 7,000 and said the epidemic put over 2.8 million people at risk from exposure to the infectious and sometimes fatal disease.
It is unclear what caused the outbreak, but initial investigation show some evidence that, in Sulemaniya, polluted water that residents were forced to rely on due to a shortage of drinking water may have been to blame. In Kirkuk, cracked water pipes allowed contamination by sewage, and because of the close geographic proximity the outbreak spread to Erbil.
The continuous movement of people and cargo, bad sanitary conditions and high temperatures may increase the possibility of spreading the disease rapidly to other areas such as Baghdad and the central provinces, health officials have warned.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It causes watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. About 80 to 90 per cent of cases are mild or moderate and are difficult to distinguish clinically from other types of acute diarrhoea. Less than 20 per cent of ill people develop typical cholera with signs of moderate or severe dehydration.