Haiti can’t catch a break. One of the greatest fears of Haiti recovery efforts volunteers has been disease, especially water-born. Haitians had been lucky on that front. Until now. Cholera has broken out, killing 140 people.
Haiti had not seen cholera in over a hundred years. This lack of recent historical outbreaks played some part in the World Health Organization’s leaving cholera off the list of major concerns for Haiti. It simply is not en endemic area.
What is cholera?
According to the CDC, Cholera causes debilitating diarrhea in one in twenty victims of the disease. Those without symptoms are still carriers. For those who are symptomatic, the loss of body fluids can lead to rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is a water-born disease, which means it can be contracted by drinking contaminated water. When it becomes an epidemic, it is often contracted through the contaminated feces of other humans. Contact with feces is generally through sewage and contaminated treated drinking water. Raw shellfish is also of concern. Cholera is not contracted through casual person to person contact. The disease is treatable through replacement of fluids and salts. In industrialized nations, it need not be fatal.
Unfortunately, Haiti cannot be called an industrialized nation. More than 1500 people have sickened with the disease. One wonders how quickly the disease can be contained, since cholera is both treatable and preventable.
Cholera is hard to contain under certain conditions
The cholera epidemic in Africa has lasted more than thirty years. Inadequate sewage treatment, lack of immediate treatment for victims and heavy rains, which help spread disease laden waters, prevent fast resolution of the epidemic. Efforts to distribute clean drinking water help, but cannot prevent the spread of the disease with heavy displacement of populations helping to spread cholera. (Timofei Belov)
In Haiti, heavy rains have caused the overflow of the Artibonite River, mirroring the types of conditions that created the problem in Africa. With severe overcrowding and the battle for sanitary conditions in Haiti, cholera may be of concern for a good while. Again, high numbers of people flood available hospitals. Confusion and fear reign as workers attempt to contain the problem. (Greg Botelho)
Haiti’s cholera outbreak
The cholera outbreak in Haiti is not limited to one area. The Island of La Gonave, Archaei, and Croix-des-Bouquet have confirmed outbreaks. Containment in these areas must begin with clean water, which can be trucked in or filtered. (Donald G. McNeil Jr.)
Haiti has suffered through a great deal, with cholera only the most recent threat. Officials believe the current outbreak will worsen. There are no projections concerning recovery. Cholera is most dangerous to the elderly and to children.
Timofei Belov. Central Africa cholera epidemic: tens of thousands of victims Greg Botelho. CNN. With 138 dead, official says Haiti cholera outbreak will likely worsenDonald G. McNeil. New York Times. Cholera reported in several areas in Haiti