Wikipedia, as is often the case, has a concise historical overview.
BAGHDAD, Sept. 11 — A cholera epidemic in northern Iraq has infected approximately 7,000 people and could reach Baghdad within weeks as the disease spreads through the country’s decrepit and unsanitary water system, Iraqi health officials said Tuesday.
The World Health Organization reported that the epidemic is concentrated in the northern regions of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya and that 10 people are known to have died. But Dr. Said Hakki, president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, a relief organization that has responded to the epidemic, said that new cases had turned up in the neighboring provinces, Erbil and Nineveh, indicating that the disease had spread.
Most significant, Dr. Hakki said, were two cases in a village on the border between Kirkuk and Diyala Provinces, one involving a young girl. Baghdad is next to Diyala.
Because of that geographic spread, Dr. Hakki said, health officials at the Red Crescent estimate that cases will begin turning up in Baghdad in late September or early October, when temperatures are especially favorable for the growth of the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which causes the disease by infecting the intestine.
Dr. Cerko Abdulla, chief of the Sulaimaniya health directorate, also said that the epidemic had begun spreading in adjacent provinces. “The water system represents the main problem,” he said. “The disease can spread widely through water, and that’s a very serious matter.”
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Cholera does not usually spread directly from person to person, so casual contact with infected people is not risky, and quarantine is not necessary. But household members, who have closer contact, may contract it, and can sometimes avoid getting sick by taking the antibiotic tetracycline.
People contract cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the bacteria, which comes from the feces of an infected person. Exposure to raw sewage and contaminated, untreated drinking water can cause epidemics. If treated water is not available, boiling will kill the bacteria. During epidemics, people need to avoid raw vegetables.
The major human displacement caused by the Iraq conflict — people being driven from their homes or simply choosing to leave — is likely to be driving the epidemic, officials say.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Awful. From the New York Times: