Authorities Fear Cholera Outbreak Could Spread in Haiti

BY Larisa Epatko  October 22, 2010 at 5:00 PM EDT

Health officials fear a cholera outbreak in rural Haiti that has killed at least 142 people and sickened more than 1,500 will spread to other parts of Haiti, including the earthquake-ravaged capital Port-au-Prince.

The waterborne bacterial infection, which causes severe diarrhea and vomiting and can lead to death by dehydration in hours if left untreated, struck the Artibonite region north of the capital. The region did not sustain much direct damage from the Jan. 12 earthquake, but thousands have taken refuge there after losing their homes in the quake.

“Now we are making sure people are fully aware of precautionary measures they have to take to prevent contamination,” Haiti’s President Rene Preval told Reuters.

Humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross scrambled to treat and contain the illness, sending medical supplies, doctors and clean water to the region. Patients spilled into hallways of hospitals and even parking lots to receive intravenous fluids.

David Darg, director of international disaster relief for one of the groups distributing clean water, Operation Blessing International, described the situation in this statement:

“Our filtration unit fired up and word spread quickly that there was water available. Soon a sea of multi colored buckets surrounded us. Villagers were appearing from every direction desperate to get drinking water. The tap stand was quickly surrounded and water flowed. There were no cheers and little laughter; most of the villagers there were stunned, afraid and weak.”


All photos by Operation Blessing International

Facts about cholera from the World Health Organization:

  • There are an estimated 3-5 million cholera cases and 100,000-120,000 deaths due to cholera every year.
  • The short incubation period of two hours to five days, enhances the potentially explosive pattern of outbreaks.
  • Cholera is an easily treatable disease. Up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts.
  • Very severely dehydrated patients require intravenous fluids and antibiotics to address the diarrhea.