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Haitian Cholera Death Toll Rises


A Haitian resident suffering from cholera waits for medical treatment

A Haitian resident suffering from cholera waits for medical treatment

Officials in Haiti say a cholera epidemic has killed more than 250 people and made more than 3,000 others ill.

At least five cases of cholera have been found in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, posing an enormous risk that the disease could spread through the city's slums and the tent camps that have grown around the capital since January's devastating earthquake.

Health workers are encouraged however, by signs that the rate of new infections is slowing.

The disease so far has been centered on the rural north and center of the country, where hundreds have died.

Gabriel Thimote, director of the Haitian Health Ministry, said more than 253 people were confirmed dead and 3,015 had fallen ill in the most affected region, lower Artibonite and Haiti's Central Plateau.

Health officials say the five victims in Port-au-Prince appear to have traveled to the capital from the main outbreak zone.

"We started to see patients on Saturday [October 16]," Ian Rawson, a doctor at Albert Schweizer Hospital, described to Reuters. "We didn't know what we were seeing. It was patients with diarrhea, but there were very few patients. And then, [on October 19-20], the [number of] patients started to continue to grow. Since then we've had about that same number, about 90 patients every day. We can discharge about 20, but then 20 more new ones come in. So, we've been holding very steady at about 90 patients in the hospital on any day."

Rawson identified the Artbonite River as the probable original source of infection of the water-borne disease, which can kill within hours through dehydration if left untreated. The river runs through the country's central area and is widely used by Haitians for all domestic purposes.

Health workers are distributing kits of soap bars, water-purification tablets, and rehydration packs to people inside and outside the affected areas, and have started a media campaign to stress the importance of hygiene.

Officials are buoyed up by the fact that daily numbers of new cases have leveled off, and in some cases are declining. They hope this indicates that the disease has been contained.

Added to Haiti's worries are estimates from seismologists that there may be another earthquake on the way. They say the fault line which caused the January quake may still be under pressure.

compiled from agency reports
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