Death from cholera can come quickly, in as little as three hours after becoming infected. An unknown strain of cholera has relief organizations rushing emergency supplies to Haiti to help contain the outbreak.
Just north of Port au Prince, the death toll exceeds 200 people (as of this writing), and more than 1,500 more people are known to be infected and are being treated in an area with about 15,000 residents.
Cholera is not endemic to Haiti, according to UNICEF, and efforts to prevent the outbreak from spreading throughout earthquake survivors’ camps are underway. It is the worst medical disaster since the January earthquake, and the first cholera epidemic in Haiti in a century, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Dominican Republic is also on alert for signs of spreading disease.
Oxfam America is also mobilizing a team of emergency specialists to set up water, sanitation, and hygiene programs, and will send additional support in the days ahead.
“This outbreak of cholera is moving very quickly. We are very concerned about the virulence of it,” said Cedric Perus, humanitarian program manager for Oxfam in Haiti. “Our response must be immediate to contain the spread of this disease.”
Cholera is a diarrheal infection caused by contaminated water or food. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pains, and profuse diarrhea. Children are particularly vulnerable to rapid dehydration. Treatment can include antibiotics, IV fluids, and oral dehydration salts.
Since the earthquake, Haiti’s vulnerable population has had difficulties finding clean water and sanitation services.
Photo used under Creative Commons license via Flickr with thanks to oneras