Iraqi medical authorities say the number of recorded cases of cholera in the conflict-ridden Arab country has climbed to more than 800, though no new deaths have been reported in days.
Director General of Planning and Development in Iraq’s Health Ministry Hassan Hadi Baqer, told Arabic-language al-Sumaria satellite television network that 50 new people have been diagnosed with symptoms of cholera, including bad diarrhea and high fever, raising the number of those who have contacted the infection to 823.
Baqer added as many as 30 of the new cases came from the city of Diwaniyah, located 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of the capital, Baghdad, seven from Baghdad’s Karkh district, which lies on the western side of the river Tigris, five from al-Rusafa on the eastern sector of the river, six from the holy shrine city of Karbala and the other two from the southeastern province of Maysan.
The epidemic is concentrated in the town of Abu Ghraib, situated about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of the capital, Baghdad, where cholera has claimed at least 10 lives.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It is a fast-developing infection that causes diarrhea, which can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly provided.
Iraq’s water and sewerage systems are old, while infrastructure development has been stalled by years of violence.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered a set of measures aimed at improving hygiene, among them daily water quality tests, distribution of bottled water to families internally displaced due to the conflict, and the installation of additional water purification stations.
Iraq’s Education Ministry has also delayed the opening of primary schools to October 18 “to give the Health Ministry the chance to complete precautionary measures in all schools.”
The latest registered cholera outbreak in Iraq killed four people and infected some 300 others in the northern city of Kirkuk, situated 236 kilometers (147 miles) north of Baghdad, and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in 2012. Five years before that, about 24 people died of the disease and over 4,000 cases were confirmed.
Iraq faces regular threats from other water-borne and food-borne diseases, such as measles, typhoid fever, hepatitis, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever due to poor public services and hygiene, according to the World Health Organization.