October 1, 2007 / 3:08 PM / 12 years ago

Steep rise in cholera cases in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - More than 500 new cases of cholera have been confirmed since Thursday in Iraq’s northern province of Kirkuk, bringing the total number across the country to more than 3,000, the health ministry said on Monday.

Fifteen people have died from the disease, but the relatively low death toll indicated the outbreak was under control despite the steep rise in the number of confirmed cases, a ministry spokeswoman said.

“We are discovering the disease at an early stage,” she said.

Kirkuk province, with 2,197 cases and two deaths, has been the epicentre of the outbreak. In neighbouring Sulaimaniya, 11 people have died and 771 cases have been recorded. In Arbil province there have been 113 cases, she said.

The spokeswoman blamed the outbreak on poor water supplies in Kirkuk. “They have been depending on wells and water brought in by tankers,” she said. “Now the government is distributing pills to sterilise the water”.

The disease was first detected in northern Iraq in August and a handful of cases have since been confirmed in the south. Last Wednesday the ministry said a woman in Baghdad had died of cholera, the first fatality outside the north of the country.

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

The virulent disease is mainly transmitted through contaminated water and food.

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