Cholera Outbreak in Haiti–This is Bad

Since this morning, media outlets have reported on a mystery illness that has killed over 50 people in Haiti.  Over the past hour, various reports confirm that Haiti is experiencing an outbreak of Cholera, an extremely virulent disease that is transmitted via contaminated water. Some of these victims have died within hours of becoming infected.

A twitter user who identifies himself as a staff surgeon at a Haitian hospital tweets:

It is confirmed that #outbreak is caused by vibrio cholerae but we do not know which type as of now…waiting for more from #who and #moh#cdc #haiti is lookinf forward to deploy a team that is going to be permanently there to help with investigation…

The outbreak seems to be centered in Artibonite, an area that was relatively unscathed by the earthquake but which experienced a massive influx of people displaced from Port au Prince. A situation report from USAID last month reported that “Of the nearly 143,000 people who moved to Artibonite Department from the Port-au-Prince area following the earthquake, more than 121,000—or approximately 85 percent—remain.”   Most of these displaced people live with host families and USAID warned that “IDPs and host families are also facing scarce livelihoods opportunities and experiencing difficulties accessing safe drinking water and hygiene items.” [Emphasis mine]

This is what happens when people experience “difficulties accessing safe drinking water.” It is not just dangerous in the abstract. It is deadly.   So far, at least 400 people have been hospitalized.  Presumably, this will get worse before it gets better.

I will post more updates soon.

UPDATE: MSF/Doctors Without Borders emails me:

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) teams in Haiti are aware of reports of diarrhea outbreaks in the Artibonite area of the country.  Medical assessment teams including doctors, nurses, and logistical staff — in coordination with the national health authorities — have been dispatched to the affected area and are providing technical and material support. MSF is acquiring additional medical materials in preparation for a possible intervention. MSF will reinforce these assessments teams as necessary in the coming days. At this stage, MSF cannot confirm either the cause or the exact type of outbreak that has been reported.

UPDATE II: Haitian radio host Carel Pedre tweets: “#Cholera #Haiti last update: 1498 people affected… 134 deaths in 2 days …”  But I am not sure where those numbers are coming from.