Haiti's President Rene Preval confirmed the outbreak of cholera Friday in the quake-hit country's central region, saying his government was taking measures to try to stop the disease spreading.The epidemic has broken out in areas that weren't greatly affected by the quake, but instead became refuges for those fleeing the capital. Prompt medical assistance is critical in reducing and eliminating mortality among those suffering from the disease, which can cause rapid dehydration through severe vomiting and diarrhea. Primary treatment is with orals or intravenous rehydration solutions.
"I can confirm it is cholera," Preval told Reuters, as Haitian and international health officials confronted the poor Caribbean nation's biggest medical crisis since the Jan. 12 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.
This outbreak again refocuses attention on the dire situation in Haiti and the slow pace of rebuilding the infrastructure in the country to deal with the threats posed by quakes and tropical storms.