Video: Haiti races to contain deadly cholera outbreak

  1. Transcript of: Haiti races to contain deadly cholera outbreak

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: It is a race against time. The government and international aid agencies are expanding efforts to contain an epidemic that has already killed 208 people and sickened more than 2600. Cholera is spread through contaminated food or water and is typically found in places where access to clean water is limited.

    Mr. ERICK LOSS (Aid Worker): The water they're drinking from the river is contaminated.

    HOLT: Most of the deaths have occurred in rural central Haiti . NBC producer Frank Thorp visited a hospital there.

    Mr. FRANK THORP: There are mothers holding their children on the floor in the hospital. People are sitting on chairs in the hallways attached to IV drips. There just aren't enough beds in the hospitals here to hold the amount of people that have cholera.

    HOLT: Experts predict the number of cases will rise. The fear is that the disease may reach Port-au-Prince, Haiti 's capital. Haiti is still struggling after the devastating earthquake in January killed 300,000 people and displaced over a million, many of them forced into makeshift camps like those we visited while covering the earthquake. An estimated 1.3 million people are still living in those camps. Officials say the crowded conditions make people especially vulnerable to cholera, and they're watching closely for any signs of the disease. And news services
updated 10/23/2010 7:44:07 PM ET 2010-10-23T23:44:07

Five cases of cholera have been detected in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, U.N. and Haitians officials said Saturday, raising concern over the spread of an epidemic that already has killed over 200 people and sickened 2,000.

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

"We have confirmed five cases in Port-au-Prince ... they were very quickly diagnosed and isolated," U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman Imogen Wall told Reuters, citing information from Haitian health authorities. They were the first cases to be detected in the capital since the outbreak started.

Wall stressed the five patients had become infected in the main outbreak zone of Artibonite north of the capital and had subsequently traveled to the city where they fell ill.

"This is not a new location of infection," Wall said, adding surveillance had been increased in Port-au-Prince, where camps house 1.3 million survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The cholera outbreak has been centered in the central Artibonite region, but at least five cases were confirmed also in Arcahaie, a town closer to the quake-devastated capital, Port-au-Prince. Another four cases were reported in Limbe, a small northern municipality.

Experts also were investigating possible cases in Croix-des-Bouquet, a suburb of the capital. Another 10 cases were reported in Gonaives, the largest city in the Artibonite, according to Partners in Health, a U.S.-based humanitarian group.

The sick include 50 inmates at a prison in Mirebalais, just north of Port-au-Prince, Health Ministry director Gabriel Thimothe said.

  1. Special report
      Haiti's Amputees: Building a life worth living

      In Haiti, next steps are anything but certain for Schneily Similien and his family. is following the story of Schneily and others who lost limbs in the earthquake. Full story

Officials were worried about the consequences for the capital.

"It will be very, very dangerous," said Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association. "Port-au-Prince already has more than 2.4 million people, and the way they are living is dangerous enough already. Clearly a lot more needs to be done."

Aid groups and the government were rushing in medical and relief supplies, including 10,000 boxes of water purification, according to the World Health Organization.

The Ministry of Health has confirmed 208 deaths and a total of 2,394 cases of cholera, said Imogen Wall, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"It's concentrated in Artibonite right now and we're doing our best to keep it that way," Wall said.

Horrific hospital conditions
Dozens of patients lay on the floor awaiting treatment at the St. Nicholas hospital in the seaside city of St. Marc on Friday, some of them brushing away flies on mattresses stained with human feces.

Story: Horror rotting disease strikes Uganda

One, 55-year-old Jille Sanatus, was brought in by his son Jordany the night before. A doctor was struggling to stick a needle into his arm.

"He's completely dehydrated, so it's difficult. It's hard to find the vein," said Dr. Roasana Casimir, who had been working nearly without rest since the outbreak became apparent Wednesday.

Casimir finally penetrated the vein and fluid from an IV bag began to trickle in, but half an hour later the father of 10 was dead. Two hospital employees carried the body to the morgue behind the hospital and placed it on the ground for the family to reclaim for a funeral.

Story: Malaria much bigger killer in India than known

Sanatus' son said the family had been drinking water from a river running down from the central plateau region. Health Minister Alex Larsen said Friday that the river tested positive for cholera.

Wall said the sick patients and the contagious remains of the dead were insufficiently quarantined.

Image: A patient is helped outside St. Nicolas
Thony Belizaire  /  AFP - Getty Images
A patient is helped outside St. Nicolas Hospital in St. Marc, north of Port-au-Prince.

"Part of the problem has been people are moving around a lot, and there hasn't been proper isolation in place at the clinics," she said.

The sick come from across the desolate Artibonite Valley, a region that received thousands of refugees following the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people and destroyed the capital 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of St. Marc. Most of the new arrivals have been taken in by host families.

Cholera was not present in Haiti before the earthquake, but experts had warned that conditions were ripe for disease to strike in areas with limited access to clean water.

"You cannot say it is because of the earthquake, but because of the earthquake the situation here requires a high level of attention in case the epidemic extends," said Michel Thieren, a program officer for the Pan-American Health Organization.

Story: Haiti amputees: 'Living with one leg is living'

Cholera is a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours.

Larsen, the health minister, urged anyone suffering diarrhea to make their own rehydration serum out of salt, sugar and water to drink on the way to a hospital.

The number of cases will continue to grow because Haitians do not have any built-up immunity to cholera, said Jon Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization's Regional Office for the Americas, which is sending medical teams to the neighboring Dominican Republic as a preventive measure.

"We have all the things in place for something we know will get bigger," Andrus said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments