Lebanon Reports First Case of Cholera Since 1993

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Lebanon reported its first case of cholera since 1993, Health Minister Firas Abiad said Thursday.

The case, which was recorded on Wednesday, came from the rural northern province of Akkar, Abiad said, adding that the infected person was a Syrian national under treatment.

Akkar province borders Syria, where a cholera outbreak has infected more than 10,000 people and killed at least 39, according to the Syrian health ministry. The country declared an outbreak on September 10.

Richard Brennan, WHO Regional Emergency Relief Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: “Transboundary spread is a concern. We are taking important precautions.”

He said the WHO has been talking to officials in countries bordering Syria, including Lebanon, to bring in supplies needed to respond to potential cholera cases.

Cholera is caused by consuming water or food contaminated with cholera bacteria, often transmitted through poor sanitation practices, according to the World Health Organisation. Symptoms may include severe watery diarrhea, vomiting and muscle cramps, the WHO said. It added that although cholera can kill within hours if left untreated, most affected have no or mild symptoms.

Lebanon has gone through a series of hardships, starting almost four years ago with an economic and financial crisis, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a horrific explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020.

The resulting economic collapse has plunged three quarters of the Lebanese population into poverty.

Lebanon’s “poor infrastructure” includes “a dysfunctional electricity sector, water shortages and inadequate management of solid waste and wastewater”, the World Bank reported in October 2021.

Abiad said the health care system would struggle if there were a large-scale cholera outbreak.

“We have a very clear signal that the Lebanese health care system needs support to strengthen the system,” he told Reuters. “Otherwise…can’t hold it.”

WHO’s Brennan said: “Protecting the most vulnerable will be absolutely vital.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.