The cholera outbreak in Haiti blamed for over 200 deaths is of a strain that is the most dangerous, Health Minister Alex Larsen said Friday as the government and relief groups scrambled to battle the disease.
Larsen said tests by the World Health Organization confirmed that the outbreak is of the 01 strain of cholera which is the most deadly and is responsible for most of the outbreaks around the world.
“We are in a sanitary crisis, this is a new woe for the country which has not seen this disease in the past,” Larsen said after a crisis meeting with President Rene Preval.
World Health Organization experts rushed to provide aid to northern Haiti and said initial tests showed traces of cholera. If confirmed, it would mark the first time that cholera has been reported in Haiti for
more than a century, WHO said.
“Some stool samples were positive for cholera by rapid diagnostic tests,” said WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib in Geneva.
“Stool samples were taken to a laboratory in Port-au-Prince for laboratory confirmation. So final confirmation that it is or not cholera is still pending,” she added in an e-mail to journalists.
“We are on maximum alert,” said Claude Surena, head of the Haitian Medical Association. “We must mobilize around the clock to help the government deal with this situation.”
“Sick people continue to arrive and we don’t have room to accept them,” said Raoul Voncent, a doctor at the hospital in the area of Artibonite where the outbreak began.
“If this continues we will be overwhelmed.”
The outbreak hit the northern part of Haiti, where hospitals were overflowing with some 1,500 new patients and the country still reeling from an earthquake in January that killed more than 300,000 people and left another 1.2 million homeless.
The epidemic has grown in the past few days but has not yet reached the major displaced persons camps in and around the capital Port-au-Prince.
But officials fear an outbreak in densely populated tent cities that have poor sanitation and meager medical facilities has the potential of unleashing a public health disaster.
Some local media reports said victims far from medical facilities were buried in makeshift graves after dying.
The outbreak is being blamed on the cholera-infected Artibonite river, an artery crossing Haiti’s rural center that thousands of people use for much of their daily activities from washing to cooking.
The American Red Cross said the situation was troubling.
“This is not an area directly affected by the earthquake of January 12, but we are concerned about the speed with which this outbreak has spread,” said the US relief group, which is working with Haitian health officials.
“Contaminated river water is the suspected source, as most of the cases have occurred in an area stretching from north-central to north-west Haiti along the Artibonite River. A sanitary cordon is in place around the affected region in an effort to contain the spread of disease.”
Another relief group, World Vision, said it was sending supplies and other aid.
“This is extremely worrying. Early reports indicate that many of the casualties showed few symptoms and, in some cases, died within 24 to 48 hours,” said World Vision emergency response official Estrella Serrano.
“If the epidemic makes its way to Port-au-Prince, where children and families are living in unsanitary, overcrowded camps, the results could be disastrous.”