Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Disaster in the time of cholera

haitisupplies.jpgHaiti is back in the news this morning, as its Ministry of Health just announced that lab tests have confirmed that cholera is responsible for an outbreak of diarrhea in rural areas. The epidemic has sickened more than 1,500 and killed at least 150, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). For months, aid organizations have been warning that crowded conditions amongst refugees from January’s devastating earthquake could lead to rapidly spreading illnesses.

“This is the first major epidemic that has taken place since the earthquake as far as I’m aware,” Andrew Marx, spokesman for medical aid group Partners in Health, told the Wall Street Journal.

Access to clean water is of paramount importance to disaster victims, as many aid groups well know. Recent floods in Pakistan have been accompanied by fears of cholera outbreaks; in August, the WHO reported that more than 18,000 people were treated for acute diarrhea in flood-affected areas. After the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in southeastern Asia, officials feared that cholera could double the more than 230,000-person death toll, but major outbreaks failed to materialize.

Image by the US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

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