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Cholera outbreak in Haiti

Jasmin K. Williams | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

The misery continues for the hundred of thousands of refugees displaced by Haiti's devastating January 12 earthquake. The massive quake, which registered 7.0, crippled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and areas in the region. More than 230,000 people were killed and more than 3 million were left homeless and are now living in squalid refugee camps.

An outbreak of cholera in the rural regions began about a week ago and has killed more than 250 people. More than 3,000 cases have been reported and more deaths are expected. Health and government officials are working to contain the epidemic and keep it from spreading to the capital city's squalid refugee camps.

"The situation is beginning to stabilize," said Health Ministry Director Gabriel Timothee.

"Medical teams have treated many people with watery diarrhea over the last several months," Doctors Without Borders reported.

Cholera is an infectious, water-born disease, which, while easily treatable, infects the cells of the small intestine, which can cause diarrhea, dehydration and death. Symptoms of the disease include abdominal cramps, dry skin, excessive thirst, rapid dehydration, vomiting and nausea. Cholera is treated by replacing fluids and electrolytes caused by the diarrhea. Left untreated, it can kill quickly.

There is a lot of misinformation among Haitians about the disease. Many think it comes from fish. While shellfish can be a transmitter, the most likely culprit is contaminated drinking water and food.

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.

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