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

The case, recorded Wednesday, was from the rural northern province of Akkar, Abiad said, adding the infected person was a Syrian national who was receiving 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 Ministry of Health. The country declared an outbreak on September 10.

Richard Brennan, regional emergency director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, said, “Cross-border spread is a concern. We’re taking significant precautions.”

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

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

Lebanon has suffered a series of hardships, starting nearly four years ago with an economic and financial crisis, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020.

The resulting economic collapse has plunged three-quarters of Lebanon’s population into poverty.

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

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

“We have a very clear signal that the Lebanese healthcare system needs support to strengthen the system,” he told Reuters. “Otherwise … it won’t be able to hold.” 

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

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

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