ST. MARC, Haiti – At least 135 people have died in a suspected cholera outbreak, and aid groups are rushing in medicine and other supplies Friday to combat Haiti’s deadliest health problem since its devastating earthquake.
The outbreak in the rural Artibonite region, which hosts thousands of quake refugees, appeared to confirm relief groups’ fears about sanitation for homeless survivors living in tarp cities and other squalid settlements.
"We have been afraid of this since the earthquake," said Robin Mahfood, president of Food for the Poor, which was preparing to fly in donations of antibiotics, dehydration salts and other supplies.
Many of the sick have converged on St. Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St. Marc, where hundreds of dehydrated patients lay on blankets in a parking lot with IVs in their arms as they waited for treatment.
Catherine Huck, deputy country director for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the Caribbean nation’s health ministry had recorded 135 deaths and more than 1,000 infected people.
"What we know is that people have diarrhea, and they are vomiting, and (they) can go quickly if they are not seen in time," Huck said. She said doctors were still awaiting lab results to pinpoint the disease.
The president of the Haitian Medical Association, Claude Surena, said the cause appeared to be cholera, but added that had not been confirmed by the government.
"The concern is that it could go from one place to another place, and it could affect more people or move from one region to another one," he said.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours. Treatment involves administering a salt and sugar-based rehydration serum.