The death toll from a cholera epidemic in Haiti topped 250 on Sunday amid fears it may spread in the country's crowded, earthquake-ravaged capital.


A child suffering cholera symptoms cries as she is comforted by a woman at the hospital in Grande-Saline, Haiti on Saturday. (Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

On Saturday, UN officials confirmed that five cases of cholera were detected in Port-au-Prince. All those people had travelled to the capital from the Artibonite region to the north to seek treatment, the officials said.

UN spokeswoman Imogen Wall said the five were quickly diagnosed and isolated.

Gabriel Thimote, director general of Haiti's Health Department, told a news conference in Port-au-Prince on Sunday that 253 people have died of the bacterial infection, while total cases number 3,015.

Some fear the outbreak could spread to squalid relief camps around the capital where people have been living since an earthquake devastated the country Jan. 12.

Authorities have started public education campaigns, using the media to tell people what to do if they think they have contracted the intestinal disease, freelance journalist Ansel Herz told CBC News.

"There is a lot of misinformation. I keep hearing from Haitians that they think it's transmitted through fish. It's [drinking] water and food that is contaminated," he said.

On Friday, Herz visited a crowded east-side Port-au-Prince slum, where for the past nine months, people have been living in tents ripped repeatedly by winds and rain.

"Just last week, they got a water tank from an NGO for potable water to supply them with clean water, but they haven't received any water to drink. People yesterday were pleading with me to get them help. The relief effort here really has not worked for many people."

Julie Schindall of Oxfam International said Haiti is dealing with a "very virulent" strain of cholera. However, she said aid workers are confident they can control it.

"We know that the people of Port-au-Prince have much better access to clean water, hospital  services and latrines, and they're much better educated on good hygiene practices because of the earthquake response, because of that huge influx of aid and education to prevent an outbreak of water-borne disease.

"So we are working with some better resources in the urban area as compared to the rural area of Artibonite," she said.


Children suffering cholera symptoms rest at the hospital in Grande-Saline, Haiti, on Saturday. ((Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press))