Reports of cholera cases reach Haitian capital

November 8, 2010 8:36:23 PM PST
There is growing fear that the unprecedented cholera outbreak in Haiti has spread to its capital, Port-au-Prince. Right now, health officials are examining more than 120 suspected cholera cases in the city. Until now, the water-borne disease has stayed in the outlying areas. It's already killed at least 544 people and sickened more than 8,000. And while these are the official numbers, the general consensus is that the figures are much lower than the reality.

Ambulances are arriving more and more frequently at Doctors Without Borders cholera test and treatment centers around Port-au-Prince.

Relatives wait outside for word on their loved ones; it's been a heartbreaking 24 hours for Julian Versa. Her mother died from Cholera Sunday night, and her sister got sick from the disease on Monday morning.

About an hour and a half drive from Port-au-Prince, a hospital is packed with cholera victims. Diarrhea, fever, dehydration so severe it can kill in hours.

Still, Haitians are washing their clothes in the floodwater runoff from Tomas' rains and bathing, too -- even naked.

Leogane was ground zero for the earthquake and the worst flooding from Friday's hurricane. Leogane Mayor Santos Alexis says more than 4,000 people are now homeless, and there isn't enough safe water for everyone.

"Right now, we cannot drink our water, and not everybody can afford to buy bottled water," Alexis said. "It may sound cheap to you guys, but it is very expensive for the people."

For those who couldn't afford to buy the bottled water, they filled up jugs directly from a broken water pipe in the middle of the street, assuming it is clean.

But just a block away, a man drained his toilet waste into a drainage culvert which sweeps through Port-au-Prince. It's evident how the problem there contains a water-transferred disease.

Mary Michelle Fonrose lives across the ditch and admits to drinking untreated water -- and paying the price. Sometimes, Fonrose says through a translator, she gets stomach aches when she drinks it.

The United Nations did take cholera kits to northern Haiti Monday morning near the Artibonite River, health officials suspect as the cholera source; but with so many communities now suffering cholera symptoms, it may be hard for this already crippled nation to slow the sweep of this disease.

So far, no one knows how the cholera outbreak started. The strain is most similar to one found in south Asia. One theory is that UN peacekeepers from Nepal may have carried the disease to Haiti.


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