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Iraqi Health Officials Fight Cholera Outbreak

U.N. health officials say there is a strong possibility that a cholera outbreak in Iraq that has already caused at least 11 deaths will spread to new areas of the country. But as VOA's Jim Randle reports from Baghdad, Iraqi officials say they are fighting the disease successfully.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 30,000 people have been afflicted with acute diarrhea and at least 2,100 with cholera, which is potentially fatal.

Most of the cases are in the north in Sulaimaniya, Kirkuk, and Irbil, but the U.N. agency reports a small number of cases from Dahuk in the far north to Basra in the south and including the capital, Baghdad.

The World Health Organization warns it is "highly possible" the outbreak will spread to new areas.

The head of parliament's health committee, Dr. Nawzad Salih says Iraqi officials are fighting the disease by increasing chlorination of drinking water to kill the microbes that cause the illness.

Dr. Salih, a member of parliament, says Iraqi officials are working to speed up the import of chlorine to help disinfect drinking water.

For a while, Iraqi authorities held up the import of chlorine, out of fear the chemical would be hijacked and used by insurgents for explosives. Several chlorine truck bombs earlier this year killed scores of people.

Dr. Salih says cholera is endemic to Iraq so officials here have years of experience dealing with the illness. He says basic public health measures are a key to preventing the disease.

"The government can do everything in that the situation is not so dangerous and controlling of cholera is not so difficult," he explained. "We can control water, and we can control sewage and we ask the people do everything correctly, washing hands and vegetables."

Cholera is an acute gastrointestinal infection that is spread when people consume water or food contaminated with the feces of an infected person. U.N. health experts say many people affected do not develop symptoms, but in others cholera can lead to death by severe dehydration and kidney failure.

People with reduced immunity, such as malnourished children or people living with HIV, are at greater risk of death if infected by cholera.