Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cholera's Turn in Haiti

(Photo by John Carroll. I think the cholera epidemic will prove to be very, very bad before it is over...)

Cholera epidemic hits Haiti, 135 dead
By Clarens Renois in Port-au-Prince

From: AFP October 22, 2010 8:02am

A CHOLERA epidemic in northern Haiti has claimed 135 lives and infected 1500 people over the last few days, Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association, said today.

"According to the results of the analysis carried out in the laboratory it is cholera," Mr Surena, adding that a government statement on the health crisis was imminent.

The outbreak has so far not hit the capital, Port-au-Prince, ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake in January, which killed more than 250,000 people and left another 1.2 million homeless.

But "hospitals and medical centres in the regions are overwhelmed and numerous deaths have been registered," said Gabriel Timothe, director general of the Haitian health ministry.

"There are several hundred people in hospital, and we are evacuating a number of the sick patients to other centres."

Doctors confirmed there had been deaths along the Artibonite river, which crosses the centre and north of the country.

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According to local radio, most of the dead have been taken to hospitals in Saint Marc, about 100 kilometres north of the capital.

In Saint Marc, doctors had earlier said 26 deaths had been registered and more than 400 people taken to hospital.

Eighteen people had also died in the town of Verette in the same region, while three had died in central Mirebalais where 100 were being treated in hospital.

"We have counted 27 deaths and 300 hospitalisations in the Drouin area," said doctor Jean-Robert Pierre-Louis by telephone from northern Haiti.

Haiti is still struggling to rebuild after the devastating quake, with hundreds of thousands of people crammed into makeshift tent cities in the ruins of the capital.

Many others fled the city to live with relatives in other towns across the impoverished Caribbean nation of about nine million people, the poorest country in the Americas.

Aid agencies have voiced fears for months that any outbreak of disease could spread rapidly due to the unsanitary conditions in the camps where people have little access to clean water.

International agencies have swung into action, mobilising medical personnel to try to contain the spread of the disease and treat the sick.

"We are evaluating the situation on the ground with the international partners and the Haitian health authorities," said Fanny Devoucoux from the French aid organisation Acted.

Cholera is caused by a comma-shaped bacterium called Vibrio cholerae, transmitted through water or food that has typically been contaminated by human faecal matter.

It causes serious diarrhoea and vomiting, leading to dehydration. It is easily treatable by rehydration and antibiotics, but with a short incubation period, it can be fatal if not treated in time.

Pandemic cholera last stalked the world in the 1960s, although the disease still erupts among refugees or in war zones where sanitation and medical infrastructure have broken down.

There are an estimated three to five million cholera cases every year, with about 100,000 to 120,000 deaths.

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