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Haiti Cholera Death Toll at 724

Patients suffering from cholera symptoms are sprayed with disinfectant at the Doctors Without Borders temporary hospital in Port-au-Prince, 11 Nov 2010

Health officials in Haiti say 724 people have died in an outbreak of cholera, as the disease continues to spread in the Caribbean nation.

The Health Ministry also reports that more than 11,000 people have now been hospitalized since the outbreak began late last month.

There has been one confirmed death from the disease in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and at least 175 cases in the city and the surrounding area. Health workers fear an explosion of the disease in the crowded capital, where hundreds of thousands of people have been living in squalid tent cities since the January earthquake that devastated the country.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti says it is unclear exactly how many cases of cholera actually exist in the country. OCHA spokeswoman Jessica DuPlessis tells Voice of America that her office and other health agencies are treating every case of diarrhea they encounter as if it were cholera.

The Health Ministry has said the vast majority of the deaths and hospitalizations have come in the more rural north and central provinces.

Earlier this week, the deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Jon Andrus, said Port-au-Prince is "ripe for the spread of cholera" because of the poor sanitary conditions. He predicted a large upsurge in the number of cases in the capital in the coming days.

The general director of Haiti's Ministry of Health, Gabriel Timothee, described the epidemic as a problem of national security.

Officials first reported the outbreak in the Artibonite region north of the capital.

Cholera is spread through contaminated food and water. It causes vomiting and diarrhea, and can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.