Haiti cholera outbreak stabilizing, group says

The cholera outbreak that has killed about 250 people in Haiti shows some signs of stabilizing, the Pan-American Health Organization says.

259 deaths so far

The cholera outbreak that has killed about 250 people in Haiti shows signs of stabilizing, the Pan-American Health Organization said Monday.

The health group said the number of new infections as well as the fatality rate have been dropping.
A child suffering cholera symptoms cries as she is comforted by a woman at the hospital in Grande-Saline, Haiti, on Saturday.

Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee said the outbreak's toll has reached 259, but noted that only six have died since Sunday.

Medical organizations are still preparing for possible outbreaks in the earthquake-hit capital city of Port-au-Prince.

More than 3,300 cases

The Haitian health department said Monday that 3,342 cases of cholera have been reported.

"Reported cases and deaths continue to increase, although compared to the initial days of outbreak the rate of increase is less extreme," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Sunday.

The outbreak has been largely concentrated in rural communities in the Artibonite area, north of the densely populated capital.

Julie Schindall, an Oxfam spokeswoman, travelled to the area over the weekend to visit water and sanitation projects and emergency treatment centres that have been set up to treat cholera patients.

"Yesterday was quite calm," she told CBC News on Monday. "The admission line was very orderly. Measures were in place to fill vats with chlorinated water for washing hands at the exit of the hospital."


Learn more about cholera, an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

She said emergency teams have made great progress over the last 24 hours — but people are still vulnerable because of poor health care and water and sanitation infrastructure.

Emergency medical organization Doctors Without Borders said Monday that plans are being made to erect a cholera treatment centre in St. Marc, a community that has seen a "significant number" of cholera cases.

Aid agencies have cautioned that the bacterial infection, which is transmitted through contaminated food and water, could become a problem in the capital city, where more than one million people have been living in squalid tent cities and camps since January's devastating earthquake forced them from their homes.

Five cases of cholera have been confirmed in the capital, but all five had travelled from the Artibonite Valley, officials said.

"Our main concern now is to be prepared if the cholera spreads down south, that we're ready to respond very quickly and effectively," said Chris Brewer, who leads a sanitation team for the Red Cross.

He said his organization is stockpiling supplies so they can set up a treatment centre if it's needed.

Doctors Without Borders said Sunday that some people suffering from watery diarrhea were being treated in Port-au-Prince at one of the group's existing centres.

"At this stage, cholera infection among the patients has not been confirmed," the organization said in a statement.

Diarrhea has not been uncommon in the capital since the Jan. 12 earthquake, but the organization said it planned to increase the number of beds available in Port-au-Prince in case more people start showing symptoms of cholera.

Meanwhile, the Haitian government and medical organizations are sending in clean water supplies, chlorine tablets, hygiene products and increased food supplies. Organizations are also trying to spread the word about the cause and treatment of cholera in an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

Schindall said what matters most right now is getting information about preventing and treating cholera out to the public.

"Washing hands, only eating cooked food, only drinking potable water — this is very, very important … to stop the spread of the disease," she said.

The Red Cross has been sending text messages to people in affected areas with advice on proper hygiene and sanitation practices. The organization also plans emergency radio broadcasts focused on preventing and treating cholera.

The World Health Organization estimates that every year, there are between three and five million cases of cholera and that between 100,000 and 120,000 people die from the treatable disease.

Other cholera outbreaks are currently taking place in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan.  

With files from The Associated Press