Cholera outbreak spreads in northern Iraq, WHO says

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GENEVA, Sep 14 (Reuters) Cholera has spread in northern Iraq, where the diarrhoeal disease has stricken 16,000 people and caused 10 deaths in a month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

The doubling of known cases, from 7,000 earlier this week, is probably due to better surveillance by health authorities, although the death toll remains the same, it said.

''The cholera outbreak has now infected 16,000 people including 10 deaths in the provinces of Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk and Erbil in northern Iraq,'' WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing.

The United Nations agency also warned that cholera could spread further unless people have access to clean water and safe food, and better sanitation. The acute intestinal infection is mainly transmitted through contaminated water and food.

Cholera is characterised in its most severe form by a sudden onset of acute watery diarrhoea that can lead to death by severe dehydration and kidney failure within hours.

Health officials in Sulaimaniya -- where there are now 6,000 cases -- said two weeks ago that they traced the outbreak in the province to a water treatment plant.

A WHO team led by Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer, its representative for Iraq, has provided technical advice and kits containing antibiotics and other supplies to combat the outbreak.

''Dr Al-Gasseer warned that delays in ensuring access to safe water, safe food and enhanced hygiene practices ... combined with the lack of sanitation could lead to further spread of cholera,'' Chaib said.

The WHO had also urged officials to provide full logistic and security support to the surveillance teams in northern Iraq, home to some 3 million people, she added.

REUTERS SBC PM1652

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