IRAQ — Iraq — like most Southwest Asian countries — has a plethora of diseases that are very common in that specific region of the world. It is important to be cognizant of these diseases because they are more common in Iraq than most Western countries. The top diseases in Iraq are either foodborne or vector-borne. Water or foodborne diseases are contracted by consumption of contaminated local cuisine, while vector-borne diseases are contracted by suffering a bite from an animal that carries the disease. The following are some of the top diseases in Iraq.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious disease that is contracted through the consumption of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A can also be transferred through physical contact between two or more individuals. Hepatitis A usually contaminates food when fecal matter carrying the disease infiltrates water systems or food is prepared in unsanitary conditions. Contaminated food can become a serious health problem when it spreads uncontrollably. For example, Shanghai experienced an epidemic of contaminated food in 1988 that spread to around 300,000 people.
Hepatitis A is a disease that attacks the liver and interferes with its functioning. The common symptoms of Hepatitis A are nausea, vomiting, fever, jaundice and diarrhea. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) website explains that “15% of victims will experience prolonged symptoms over 6-9 months.” Additionally, adults have a much higher chance of experiencing symptoms of the disease as opposed to children.
Hepatitis E is a disease similar to Hepatitis A. For instance, Hepatitis E is also spread through the fecal-oral route. Poor communities with unsanitary water systems and restaurants with poor hygienic policies can easily become contaminated with Hepatitis E. There are around 20 million cases of Hepatitis E every year and about 56,600 deaths. Unfortunately, the only vaccine available for Hepatitis A is licensed in China. However, Hepatitis E is a rarely contracted due to the amount of infectious agent that is required to infiltrate the body. The majority of contaminated food or water that is consumed does not contain enough of the infectious agent.
Hepatitis E—like Hepatitis A—attacks the liver and disrupts its functioning. The most common symptoms are jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pain and dark colored urine. WHO claims that “the infection is self-limiting and resolves within 2–6 weeks.” Although Hepatitis E is rarely deadly, it has the potential to develop into fulminant Hepatitis. This rare form of the disease can cause death in a small portion of individuals.
One of the most infectious vector-borne and top diseases in Iraq is Malaria. Malaria is most commonly transmitted through mosquitos by sucking the blood of their victims. Mosquitos cause millions of human deaths every year and are one of the deadliest animals in the world. According to the WHO, “In 2015 alone, malaria claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people.” When the human body is infected with Malaria, “parasites multiply in the liver attacking red blood cells resulting in cycles of fever, chills, and sweats accompanied by anemia…” Malaria can cause massive damage to the vital organs of the body and disrupt the amount of blood flow going to the brain. Countries such as sub-Saharan Africa experience 1.5 to 2.5 million deaths annually due to Malaria.
As stated previously, the common symptoms associated with Malaria include chills, fever and sweating. After Malaria enters the body it can stay in one’s system for a long period of time. It can take 10 days to several months for an infected individual to start experiencing symptoms. That is why it is apparent to seek medical attention immediately if malaria symptoms occur.
Dengue is one of the top diseases in Iraq and is classified as a vector born disease. Dengue is also primarily transmitted by mosquitos. According to WHO, “Dengue is endemic in more than 128 countries, with 3.9 billion people at risk.” Dengue has been on the rise the past 30 years and has risen 30 fold in that time span. Dengue affects so many individuals that half of the earth’s population is at risk of contracting this potentially deadly disease. Dengue is potentially deadly because only 5 percent of cases have led to death. Dengue is mostly prominent in poor suburbs and courtside.
The symptoms associated with Dengue include: “high fever accompanied by a severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pains, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands or rash may occur.” Typically these symptoms don’t affect the victim until 4 to 10 days after they have contracted the disease. Dengue has the potential to develop into severe Dengue and that can be deadly. Symptoms for severe Dengue “include a decrease in temperature, severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding gums, fatigue, restlessness and blood in vomit.” Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
It is worth noting that medical professionals have created vaccines for every one of these diseases, except Hepatitis E and Malaria. Fortunately, Hepatitis E is a rare disease to contract and there are plenty of preventive methods that help ward off Malaria. Always remember to get vaccinated on an annual basis and look into contractible disease before traveling to foreign countries.
– Terry J. Halloran