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November 17, 2010

US Health Experts Warn Haiti Could Face Repeated Cholera Outbreaks


U.S. health experts say Haiti's cholera epidemic could easily get worse, warning the country could face long-term problems with the disease and repeated outbreaks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday in a report that the course of the current outbreak is difficult to predict. The report said the Haitian population has no preexisting immunity to cholera and said environmental conditions in Haiti are favorable for its continued spread.

Haiti's health ministry says cholera has already killed more than 1,100 people since the outbreak was first reported late last month. Nearly 18,400 people have been hospitalized.

The European Union's humanitarian aid commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, urged member states Thursday to help Haiti fight the epidemic by sending the country supplies, not just money. Georgieva said Haiti has an urgent need for supplies, including medication and water purification tablets.

Some Haitians accuse U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal of bringing the waterborne disease to the Caribbean nation. Violent riots broke out this week, with demonstrators burning cars and tires and attacking U.N. bases.

Two protesters were killed Monday in clashes with U.N. troops, while a third demonstrator died Wednesday.

Haitian President Rene Preval and U.N. officials have called for an end to the violence, saying it will only hamper aid efforts.

The U.N. says it has been forced to cancel flights carrying aid supplies because of security concerns in Cap Haitien and Port de Paix.  Roadblocks and other problems caused by the protests also have affected people's ability to get to the hospital, and have forced the suspension of a water cleaning project and training of medical staff.

Meanwhile, former U.S. president Bill Clinton's foundation announced Wednesday it has committed $1.5 million in response to the cholera outbreak.  The foundation says it is committing $1 million in immediate assistance to train 10,000 community health workers across Haiti.  It also says it will support a long-term cholera education and awareness campaign.  

CHOLERA PREVENTION & SYMPTOMS

Watch Out For:

  • Profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, leg cramps *Without treatment you could die within a few hours time

    Prevent Getting Infected By:
  • Drinking bottled water (avoid ice)
  • Washing hands often with soap and water

    Using latrines or burying feces (avoid defecating in or near water sources)

    Cooking food well (making sure food is hot, peel fruits, vegetables, avoid raw foods)

    Cleaning kitchen, bathrooms, laundry rooms at least 30 meters away from water sources

    *Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Health officials in the Dominican Republic and the United States say they have identified cases of cholera in their nations. The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, reported one case of the disease in a Haitian man who is receiving treatment.  Authorities in the southern U.S. state of Florida say they have also confirmed a case in a woman who visited Haiti near where the outbreak began.  Officials say they are investigating other possible cases in Florida.

Health workers fear an explosion of the disease in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of thousands of people have been living in crowded, squalid tent cities since the January earthquake that devastated the country.

Cholera is spread through fecal-contaminated food and water.  It causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death.  Hospitals and clinics in Haiti are now struggling to treat a growing number of people suffering from diarrhea and dehydration.  The World Health Organization says the bacteria that causes the disease will be in Haiti for years.

 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.