Global Alert and Response (GAR)

Cholera in Iraq - Update 2

14 May 2003

Disease Outbreak Reported

The national public health laboratory in Kuwait has confirmed the presence of vibrio cholerae, the bacterium which causes cholera, in 4 out of the 38 samples which the World Health Organization (WHO) team in Basra collected last week.(see previous report)

Another 18 cases have been clinically and laboratory confirmed from three hospitals in Basra. WHO warned the national and international health community as soon as cholera was first identified by hospital staff in Basra last week in order to put in place immediate containment measures.

Since last week, WHO, the Iraqi health authorities and their partners have set up a cholera taskforce to respond quickly to this outbreak and to minimize its consequences for the people of Basra. Cases of Cholera have been reported in Basra since 1989. In 2002, for example, 257 specimens were confirmed positive for cholera. The number of cases peaks each year during the warmest months of the year, between May and October. In recent years, diarrhoeal disease has been one of the three main killers of children in Iraq.

WHO is extremely concerned about the current high levels of diarrhoeal disease which are being reported from across Iraq. We have detailed reports of sharp increases in diarrhoeal cases from Baghdad and Mosul, as well as anecdotal reports from elsewhere. WHO believes that the lack of access to clean, safe water and the problems with security combine to produce a particularly dangerous situation in which there could be a large number of cases of diarrhoeal disease - including, but not limited to, cholera.

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