Lebanon in a time of cholera

Cholera in Lebanon, woman in the north gets IV from a healthcare worker

Cholera in Lebanon. In Bebnine, Akkar district, northern Lebanon October 28, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Cholera always sounds like an epidemic of the past, yet we hinted about the rise of cholera and climate change more than 10 years ago. Now, we are seeing the effects of climate change and drought in Syria and Lebanon. Cholera is becoming a public health emergency in Lebanon and Syria as the bacteria spreads.  

UNICEF on the ground in Lebanon and Syria estimate about 35,000 cases of cholera there, with Lebanon’s Ministry of Health estimating over 3,000 cases. Poor hygiene and water services in Syria has created the outbreak. Cholera hasn’t been seen in Syria in 14 years and was believed to be eradicated, much like polio which still rears its head in sewage systems in the Middle East.

According to the EU, the outbreak in Syria started from a pile of factors including drought, economic poverty, and a battered water infrastructure. Almost 50% of Syrians now rely on unsafe sources of water for their daily needs.

Cholera is transmitted and then contracted through contaminated food or drinking water. Dehydration can be fatal unless treated quickly. Like Covid, good hygiene is key but also clean water, which may be scarce in some parts of Syria.  Cholera outbreaks now threaten the entire Levant region with the bacteria appearing downstream in Israel.

cholera cases in syria, woman nursing child

A mother sits with her child who was diagnosed with cholera in a hospital in Deir el-Zour, Syria, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)

It is believed that the cholera bacteria has spread through contamination of the Euphrates River, the Nile of the Levant region, extending to Iraq with sewage water. It continued to spread through irrigating farmland. 

Some infected mistakenly think they have Covid. And they might have Covid as well. 

Calling about cholera in Lebanon

The Lebanese Ministry of Public Health stated that the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC) has opened a new hotline to ease the cholera outbreak. Locals in Lebanon can call the hotline 1760, 24/7, to get medical advice for confirmed and potential cholera patients. The emergency number 140 is for taking cholera patients to centers and hospitals, and it’s still available for use.


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