WHO urges Iraq neighbours to boost cholera defences

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GENEVA, Oct 4 (Reuters) The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned Iraq's neighbours to boost their defences against cholera, which has struck at least 3,315 people in Iraq.

The virulent disease is ''continuing to spread across Iraq and dissemination to as yet unaffected areas remains highly possible'', the WHO said in a statement.

The UN health agency said it did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions on affected areas in Iraq. ''However, neighbouring countries are encouraged to reinforce their active surveillance and preparedness systems,'' it said.

Iraq shares borders with Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Claire-Lise Chaignat, the WHO's global cholera coordinator, said the bacteria could be carried by Iraqi refugees and pilgrims, as well as by normal commercial trade, but there was no reason to close borders.

''We are particularly worried about countries with Iraqi refugees where they don't always have access to good water and sanitation and hygienic conditions,'' she told Reuters.

Iraq's Health Ministry said on Monday that 15 people had died of cholera since the outbreak began in mid-August.

The number of deaths from the disease has ''remained low throughout the outbreak indicating that those who have become sick have been able to access adequate treatment on time'', the WHO said.

Cholera is characterised by a sudden onset of acute watery diarrhoea that in severe cases can cause death by dehydration and kidney failure within hours. It is transmitted mainly through contaminated water and food.

The overall quality of water and sanitation in Iraq is ''very poor'', which greatly facilitates cholera contamination, according to the WHO. The agency is in the process of buying 5 million water treatment tablets to purify water supplies.

A first cholera case has been confirmed in Wasit province in the Iraqi southeast and an increasing number of patients with acute watery diarrhoea had been reported in Diala, near Baghdad, the WHO said.

The prevalence of cholera has stabilised in Basra, Baghdad, Dahuk, Mosul and Tikrit, it added. The majority of cases have been in the north, with 2,300 reported in Kirkuk and 870 in Sulaimaniya.

REUTERS JK PM1432

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