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Cholera Prevention Efforts Intensify in Haiti

UN peacekeepers from Guatemala take a sample of excrement next to the Nepali UN base in Mirebalais, 27 Oct 2010. UN investigators took samples of foul-smelling waste flowing persistent accusations that excrement from a Nepalese peacekeeping base caused t

Haitian and international health officials are focusing on preventing the spread of cholera in Haiti as the number of fatalities and new cases of the disease continues to grow.

Haiti's health ministry says 303 people have died in the outbreak and more than 4,700 people are now being treated for the illness.

Officials say the vast majority of reported cases remain in central and northern Haiti.

The Pan American Health Organization and other international agencies are working with the health ministry to distribute treatments and help educate people on prevention practices.

In the capital, Port-au-Prince, aid groups have been distributing pamphlets and instructing residents of tent cities on hygiene and cholera prevention. Managers at one of the camps have agreed to establish a cholera treatment center there, in the event the outbreak reaches the capital.

Hundreds of thousands of survivors of January's massive earthquake are living in the crowded squalid camps.

Health officials are distributing dehydration salts, a simple oral treatment that has been shown to be effective in treating and preventing complications in 80 percent of cholera cases.

The deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, Jon Andrus, told reporters Wednesday the epidemic has yet to peak and that it is difficult to determine when that might happen because of the number of under reported cases in remote areas.

Officials with the World Health Organization are providing powdered chlorine for water purification and testing water being distributed in the camps. The U.N. agency says the Haitian government has established a contingency plan to prevent the disease from spreading across the border into the Dominican Republic.

Cholera, a bacterial infection, is spread by ingesting contaminated food or water. The disease is treatable but can kill within hours without treatment.

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