WHO confirms 1,500 cholera cases in Iraq

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GENEVA, Sep 22 (Reuters) More than 1,500 people have been confirmed as having cholera in Iraq and the outbreak has spread from the north to Baghdad, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

In all, 29,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported by Iraqi authorities, including 1,500 confirmed as cholera in a laboratory, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said yesterday.

The known death toll from the outbreak stands at 10, all in the north, and WHO officials are working with Iraqi health authorities to avert an epidemic, she said.

''A (first) case of cholera has been confirmed in Baghdad two days ago, a 25-year-old woman who contracted the disease,'' Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva.

''For the time being, we have only one case. It's likely that others will be identified,'' she said, adding that two suspected cases were under investigation.

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. The acute intestinal infection is mainly transmitted through contaminated water and food.

''The most important thing for Baghdad, even if it is difficult, is to strengthen the (disease) surveillance system to be able to identify all the suspected cases and to know what are the needs in terms of oral rehydration salts, intravenous fluids and antibiotics to be ready if we see more cases,'' Chaib said.

A week ago, the WHO said 16,000 people had been stricken by acute watery diarrhoea in northern Iraq, in the provinces of Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk and Arbil.

REUTERS AK PM0528

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