BAM, 22 Jan 2004 (IRIN) - Although communicable diseases have not been widespread in the southeastern Iranian city of Bam, many survivors of the quake that struck nearly four weeks ago and killed at least 40,000, are suffering from respiratory infections. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 1,090 cases of Acute Respiratory Infection have been reported recently in Bam.
"We have information from MoH [Ministry of Health] teams working in 13 zones [of the city] that suggest that Acute Respiratory Infection [ARI] is the chief complaint of people coming to the clinics. It contributes to 21 percent of all cases of referrals to the health system," Bijan Hamidi, a WHO medical officer in Bam, told IRIN.
"Right now, one of the things we are seeing is we are treating a lot of respiratory infections," Joe Urbanowicz, leader of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) medical team in Bam, told IRIN.
"I think a lot of this is due to the dust. The earthquake caused a lot of dust and reconstruction is causing a lot of dust. It is causing problems for adults but it is also causing problems for new born babies," Urbanowicz said, adding that they had seen several new born babies with serious respiratory conditions in one day alone.
According to the health official, a lot of people were living in tents, most of which were not suitable at this time of the year with temperatures dropping below zero at nights. This was also contributing to the number of ARI incidences, he explained, adding the situation had been aggravated by tent dwellers using kerosene heaters to keep them warm at night.
A staff member of Merlin, an international health NGO, told IRIN that kerosene fumes could also be one of the elements causing ARI diseases as they were drying the air in tents and exposing lungs and throats to ARI.
"We have no data from previous years at this time of the year to compare. But we can expect a general rise in the number of cases [of ARI] due to the dust, lack of the hygienic facilities, lack of proper shelter and blankets," Hamidi said.
He also noted that a weakened immune system was related to stress, making the quake survivors vulnerable to a range of opportunistic diseases. "But what we are concerned is that it doesn't turn into an epidemic so that the health facilities here are not overburdened with the problem," Hamidi said.
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