Haiti cholera death toll mounts to 259

Health authorities in Haiti are fighting to keep a deadly cholera outbreak out of the squalid camps in Port-au-Prince where 1.3 million homeless earthquake survivors live

Health authorities in Haiti are fighting to keep a deadly cholera outbreak out of the squalid camps in Port-au-Prince, where 1.3 million homeless earthquake survivors live.

A multinational medical response has slowed deaths in an epidemic that has killed more than 259 people so far. But the outbreak is likely to widen, says a senior U.N. official.

‘We must gear up for a serious epidemic, even though we hope it won’t happen,’ says Nigel Fisher, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Haiti. Fisher said a nationwide anti-cholera health education campaign was underway, using radio announcements in Creole and even SMS text messages sent to mobile phone owners.

Almost 3,500 cholera cases have been reported so far in the poor, Caribbean nation, which is experiencing its second humanitarian crisis since a catastrophic earthquake on January 12.

Haitian Health Minister Alex Larsen has urged people to wash their hands with soap, avoid eating raw vegetables, boil all food and water and avoid bathing in and drinking from rivers.

If left untreated, cholera can kill within hours by dehydrating victims with severe diarrhoea. If caught early it can be treated by an oral rehydration solution – or a simple mixture of water, sugar and salt.

In particular, the outbreak is putting the lives of young children and babies at extreme risk, says charity Save the Children. Many children there are also malnourished, which makes them even more susceptible.

Lisa Laumann, Save the Children’s Program Director in Haiti, says: ‘Children are small and not as strong as adults. They physically contain less fluid, which means the disease can kill them very fast.’

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