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Mon 8 Oct 2007 11:01 AM

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Cholera outbreak escalates, Middle East on alert

Saudi Arabia latest nation to restrict food and drink to stop disease spreading.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday became the latest country in the region to restrict food and drink being brought into the kingdom in order to stop the escalating cholera outbreaks in neighbouring countries from spreading across its borders.

A spokesperson at the Health Ministry on Sunday said the kingdom is acting on recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to counter the spread of the severely infectious disease, Saudi daily Arab News reported.

Muslim pilgrims coming to the kingdom from affected countries to perform Umrah (small pilgrimage) are being banned from bringing in food or drink under the new measures.

“We have gone into action promptly to keep the disease away from our doorsteps and we have totally banned Umrah pilgrims from bringing food or drinks,” spokesperson Khalid Al-Mirghalani told the newspaper.

The Ministry of Health is paying special attention to pilgrims coming from countries that have reported cholera outbreaks, such as Iran, Iraq and Bangladesh, he added.

Cholera is on the rise in the region, with WHO last week stating there had been 10 cases in the western Kordestan province of Iran since September 19.

And in Iraq there have been over 3,000 confirmed cases of cholera, claiming the lives of around 14 people.

Last month Kuwait announced a state of alert for health and emergency workers and cautioned people about buying food brought in from Iraq.

Jordan is also taking measures to prevent cholera from spreading to the country, with officials set to meet again on Monday to re-examine contingency plans after the disease spread from to Iran.

The country's Ministry of Health is set to carry out tests on samples of water from across the kingdom as part of new measures, national daily Jordan Times reported on Monday.

Authorities has also banned people from bringing foodstuff other than canned goods into the country and requires all travellers from Iraq to be immunised before entering Jordan.

Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease that causes severe diarrhoea. It is transmission to humans by ingesting contaminated water or food.

In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known, with a healthy person becoming hypotensive within an hour of the onset of symptoms and dying within two to three hours if no treatment is provided.

However, doctors say the death rate from the outbreak is still low, with only around 1% of those who contract the disease dying.

Cholera is common in Iraq, with about 30 cases reported every year. The last serious outbreak was in 1999.

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