updated 8/29/2007 12:02:19 PM ET 2007-08-29T16:02:19

An outbreak of cholera in two northern Iraqi provinces has killed eight people and left dozens more ill, a Kurdistan health official said Wednesday.

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Regional Health Minister Zeryan Othman made his comments during a visit to Azadi hospital in this northern oil-rich city along with a delegation from the central Health Ministry in Baghdad. Earlier this week, Othman spoke about dozens of cases in the city of Sulaimaniyah.

"There are 47 cholera cases in Kirkuk and 35 in Sulaimaniyah. This is in addition to 2,250 people suffering from diarrhea in Sulaimaniyah and 2,000 similar cases in Kirkuk," Othman told reporters during a news conference held in this ethnically-mixed city.

"Seven people died in Sulaimaniyah and one in Kirkuk," the minister added.

He expressed readiness to help hospitals in Kirkuk that is not part of the three semiautonomous Kurdish provinces in northern Iraq. He warned that the disease could spread to other areas such as Baghdad and the central province of Salahuddin, where the minister said there are some cases.

Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease that is spread by drinking contaminated water and can cause severe diarrhea. In extreme cases, that can cause fatal dehydration.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that monitoring systems have been established by the U.N. body.

"To date, it is estimated that Sulaimaniyah governorate experienced close to 5,000 cases since 10 August, with 10 deaths reported and 51 confirmed cases in Kirkuk," the statement said.

The statement said that WHO will establish a surveillance system for water quality control, food inspection, and case findings and management while United Nations Children's Fund will support with oral re-hydration therapy.

Iraq's infrastructure in crumbling due to years of wars and international sanctions and many Iraqi towns and villages lack clean drinking water while the sewage system does not function in many areas. Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, insurgents have targeted the country's infrastructure such as water and electricity stations.

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