The cholera outbreak gripping Haiti has now claimed more than 250 victims – as the disease begins to take hold in earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince.
Although aid workers have been desperately trying to stop the infection reaching the capital – where around 1.3 million people made homeless by January’s earthquake are still living in squalid refugee camps – the UN has confirmed five cases there.
Some 3,015 people across the country already have the disease which originated in the Artibonite region – and health officials have now announced the death toll has risen to 253.
The UN Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated: “Of the five people with confirmed cases of cholera in Port-au-Prince, four were shown to have originated in Artibonite and one from the Central department,” the statement read.
The OCHA explained that the new cases did not represent a spread of the epidemic as the infections originated in two areas where the disease is already present, rather than the new location of Port-au-Prince.
It is thought the patients may have travelled to the city carrying the infection.
A statement on the organisation’s website said: “The identification of the five cases in the capital, while worrying, also demonstrates that the reporting systems for epidemic management are functioning.”
The report confirmed the main hospital in the northern city of St Marc was “filled to capacity”, while “other health facilities are under strain to cope with the numbers of patients”.
The number of cases in towns near Port-au-Prince had been steadily rising and officials are now worried an outbreak could occur in the camps housing survivors of the earthquake that killed 300,000 just 10 months ago.
“There’s a lot of places that still don’t have clean water,” Project Medishare aid worker Patricia Pitts told Sky News.
“And it would be devastating if it started to hit the camps.”
Experts are investigating possible cases in Croix-des-Bouquet, a suburb of the capital that could act as a transfer point for the disease as it has a widely-used bus station.
“This is a very mobile country,” said Paul Namphy, with Haiti’s national water agency.
“It can spread like wildfire.”
The disease causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting which can result in dehydration and death within hours, but it has not been seen in Haiti for decades.
The Red Cross is working to educate locals on the importance of basic hygiene techniques and to supply bottled water and purification tablets.
Melody Munz, environmental health co-ordinator for the International Rescue Committee said: “We can provide soap, and we can provide chlorine.
“The thing is to get the community to participate.”
However, Mark Schuller, a human rights worker for International Action Ties, said very little information is reaching the most vulnerable people living in camps.
“Everyone I’m talking to is saying they haven’t heard from a single NGO or government official,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t even know that there’s a cholera epidemic.”