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Deadly cholera outbreak in Lebanon warns of 'rapid spread' | Health News

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Lebanon has warned that a deadly cholera epidemic is “spreading rapidly”, with cases rising following the deadly cholera epidemic spreading from neighboring Syria.

The outbreak is the first since 1993 in the economically devastated country that has left at least five dead. Health officials blamed the country’s financial and political struggles, which have left citizens with a weak and crumbling sanitation infrastructure.

“The epidemic is spreading rapidly in Lebanon,” the watchdog Public Health Minister Firass Abiad told reporters on Wednesday.

According to the health ministry, 169 cases of cholera have been recorded in Lebanon since 6 October, almost half of them in the last two days.

The latest crisis comes after three years of unprecedented economic hardship in Lebanon and a failure to control the permeable borders with neighboring, war-torn Syria, where an epidemic has spread after more than a decade of war.

Abiad said that the first case in Lebanon was recorded on October 5 in Akkar, a rural area in northern Lebanon, and that the Syrian national was receiving treatment and his condition is stable.

He added that “the vast majority” of cases are Syrian refugees, adding that health officials “are starting to notice an increase in cases among Lebanese.”

Lebanon is home to over a million Syrian refugees, many of whom are already in poverty and living in overcrowded camps for the displaced with no running water or sewer systems – long before Lebanon’s economic collapse begins.

“The lack of sanitary conditions makes crowded camps high-risk areas,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Akkar in Lebanon.

“The cases are no longer confined to camps on the Syrian border, but have since spread to poor areas where drinking water is very polluted and occasionally mixed with wastewater.”

Cholera is usually transmitted through contaminated food or water and causes diarrhea and vomiting.

It can also spread in residential areas that do not have suitable sewerage networks or potable water from the network.

Abiad said the contaminated water was used in agriculture and the disease was transmitted to fruits and vegetables.

Lebanon’s water infrastructure is also abandoned, and its healthcare system has been hit hard by a three-year financial crisis and the August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut that destroyed critical medical infrastructure in the capital.

Despite humanitarian aid from donor countries, Abiad said the industry will struggle to deal with a large-scale outbreak.

The Euphrates River is believed to be the source of Syria’s first waterborne disease outbreak since 2009, but cholera has since spread across the country, with thousands of suspected or confirmed cases reported.

According to the United Nations, nearly two-thirds of water treatment plants, half of the pumping stations and one-third of the water towers in Syria were damaged.

WHO recommends the use of a cholera vaccine dose due to shortage

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization and its partners have recommended that countries temporarily switch to using a single dose of cholera vaccine instead of two, due to shortages of supply due to the global increase in epidemics.

One dose of the vaccine has proven effective in stopping outbreaks and appears to be lower in children, “although the evidence for the full duration of protection is limited,” the UN agency and partners, including UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said on Wednesday.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, warned that outbreaks in 29 countries this year are putting “unprecedented pressure” on the world’s limited vaccine supply. He said authorities should aim to increase vaccine production and that “rationing should only be a temporary solution”.

Cholera can kill within hours if left untreated, but most infected will have no or mild symptoms, according to the WHO.

It’s generally easily treatable with an oral rehydration solution, but more severe cases may require intravenous fluids and antibiotics, the WHO said.

Worldwide, the disease affects between 1.3 million and four million people each year and kills between 21,000 and 143,000 people.