New calamity of Kashmir’s villagers: cold-related diseases

Already reeling from the earthquake that shattered their region, villagers in this scenic Kashmir village are now facing a new calamity, nearly half are suffering from skin disease, respiratory problems or other cold related-llness, health officials said Friday. "Scabies, flu and respiratory-track problems are common here," said Irshad Hussain, a physician at a field hospital in Ghari Dopata, a town which lies about 35 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir.

Health officials fear such problems are spreading rapidly, and will get worse as the Himalayan winter sets in. Since the Oct. 8 earthquake, which killed 87,000 people in Kashmir and northern Pakistan, doctors have been urging people to regularly bathe, wash their hands with soap and wear clean clothing. But, with no warm water in many towns, villagers are hard-pressed to comply.

"I shivered the first time I had my bath last month in the nearby stream," said Ghulam Sher, a 48-year-old who lives in a tent with his wife and seven children. All have been treated for scabies. Hussain said his hospital has treated 700 patients this week who are suffering from scabies, a severe skin rash that can become infected if not treated. About 200 patients had flu and other cold-related illness. However, he said only a few cases of pneumonia had been reported.

The region's chief health officer, Sardar Mahmood, acknowledged that scabies and respiratory illnesses were common in remote towns and villages. But he said people were receiving proper treatment and recovering fast. He added, however, that they must be extra careful in the coming days, when heavy snow and rain are expected to lash Kashmir.

Muhammed Saeed, a senior meteorologist, said heavy rains and snow are forecast next week. Although light snow has already fallen in highlands, the capital of the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, is also expected to receive snow in another week or so. Kashmir is also claimed in its entirety by India, reports the AP. N.U.

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