Iraqi Cholera Outbreak Underscores Importance of Safe Drinking Water

Sept. 25, 2007

Cholera was confirmed Friday in a baby in Basra, the farthest south the outbreak has been detected. Officials expressed concern over a shortage of chlorine needed to prevent the disease from spreading.

A shipment of 100,000 tons of the water purifier has been held up at the Jordanian border over fears the chemical could be used in explosives. Baghdad, which has doubled the amount of chlorine in the drinking water, now has only a week's supply.

World Health Organization spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said in Geneva that Iraq has registered 29,000 cases of acute watery diarrhea, with 1,500 of those confirmed as cholera. All but two confirmed cases are in the north.

The bottle-fed, 7-month-old infant is the only confirmed case in Basra, Iraq's second-largest and southernmost city, WHO reported.

On Thursday, WHO confirmed the first case in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, saying a 25-year-old woman turned up at a hospital with a severe case of diarrhea that proved to be caused by cholera.

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

Naeema al-Gasseer, WHO's representative for Iraq, said there have been 10 deaths in the north, a number she said indicates the disease is not getting out of hand.

"We are treating this as an outbreak, not an epidemic," al- Gasseer said. "People are panicking because of the numbers. We are trying to focus them away from the numbers. We tell everyone in Iraq: Wash your hands with disinfectant, boil water at least five minutes, don't eat fruit and vegetables that cannot be peeled and may have been washed with contaminated water."

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

Source: Cincinnati Post