Cholera spreads in Haiti; almost 200 people dead


Port-au-Prince : At least 200 people have died in a cholera outbreak in earthquake-shattered Haiti, the government said Saturday.

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Another 2,500 people were fighting for their lives in hospital, sickened with fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, in the Lower Artibonite region, 80 km north of capital Port-au-Prince.

The outbreak prompted the government to declare a health emergency across the country late Friday and institute sweeping measures to halt the spread of the disease.

There were fears of the disease inching closer to Port-au-Prince, where more than one million people have been living in tents since the Jan 12 earthquake in which more than 200,000 people died, Radio Metropole reported.

Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by bacteria transmitted through faecal contamination of water or food. The main symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting, which can quickly lead to severe, sometimes fatal, dehydration.

A health and sanitation aid worker in Haiti told DPA that the outbreak appears to have occurred in a relatively affluent area, raising concerns for other areas with poor sanitation.

“If the wave of disease reaches Port-au-Prince, where families are living in overcrowded, unhygienic camps, then it will be disastrous,” said aid worker Estrella Serrano.

Federica Nogarotto, Doctors Without Borders’ field coordinator in St. Marc, Haiti, where the outbreak was centred, said there were “significant numbers” of cholera patients at the city’s St. Nicholas Hospital, which lacks “the capacity to handle a cholera emergency”.

“The most important thing is to isolate the cholera patients there from the rest of the patients, in order to best treat those people who are infected and to prevent further spread of the disease,” Nogarotto said.

Experts are baffled by the cholera outbreak, Haiti’s first in decades. Haitian authorities fear that recent heavy rains had caused latrines to overflow and displaced contaminated water into the Artibonite river.