Cholera Spreads In Earthquake-Ravaged Haiti

Cases of cholera have been reported in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. It already has killed 250 people in rural areas and sickened more than 3,000. Mary Louise Kelly talks to reporter Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald about the cholera outbreak in Haiti.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News.�I'm Steve Inskeep.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

Cholera has come to Haiti. And health officials are waiting for the outbreak to make its way to the country's crowded capital, Port-au-Prince. Cholera causes an intestinal infection that leads to severe diarrhea, rapid dehydration and death - sometimes within a matter of hours. So far, there have been about 250 deaths, mostly in a region hard-hit by hurricanes, but spared from January's devastating earthquake.��

Now, health workers are trying to identify the source of the outbreak - and prepare the Haitian capital, where hundreds of thousands of people are still living outdoors in makeshift camps.�Reporter Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald is on the line now from Port-au-Prince.�

And, Jacqueline, I understand you have traveled to the area where this outbreak was first discovered last week. Tell me what you were able to see.�

Ms. JACQUELINE CHARLES (Reporter, Miami Herald): Yes, I did travel to the area. There's a lot of fear there, among individuals, because they don't know exactly what this is. And hospitals that are in that area, they are just overwhelmed. What you have are patients that are, you know, in rooms that are very tiny. They are on the floor. There's just not enough beds.

In the courtyard you have people, they have masks on. They're worried. They're family members. There are also people who are suffering from acute, severe diarrhea. And so right now, what they're to do is figure out a way to provide some additional medical assistance to those individuals.

KELLY: And you mentioned just the fear that is permeating the area. I mean, I would guess a lot of people are afraid, even, to drink water right now, which is ironic because that's exactly what you need to do if you're showing any of these symptoms.

Ms. CHARLES: Exactly. It's a vicious cycle, because cholera is transmitted through contaminated water. It's one of the sources. And so people are being told they need to drink bottled water or boil their water. But they are very afraid to drink even what they know already is potable water. And that is going on both in the capital and in the valley where this outbreak first occurred.

KELLY: Well, what do we know about the spread? Has cholera actually arrived in Port-au-Prince and how bad could it get in the capital?

Ms. CHARLES: There are five isolated cases as of yesterday. And they've been identified and they've been quarantined. And these are individuals who've contracted this disease from the area that was first affected. And so when you talk to health officials here they tell you that it has not spread, you know, to Port-au-Prince. But the fear is that soon they're going to start to see some sort of outbreak, and that it is going to arrive in the capital in larger numbers.

KELLY: And give us a little bit of a sense. Is there access for most people to clean water and to medical facilities that have the supplies and the expertise that's needed to handle this?

Ms. CHARLES: No. Clean water in Haiti has been a long-standing issue. And while they've made progress over the years, especially in terms of potable water and getting Haitians to understand the importance of that, water security is still an issue. And so that's why this disease is so dangerous.

KELLY: Who's taking the lead, in terms of Haitian officials, in dealing with this?

Ms. CHARLES: The Haitian health ministry has taken the lead on this issue. Basically, lessons learned from the January 12 earthquake. They are taking the lead in coordinating the international response. It was actually the Haitians who were the first to confirm that it was indeed cholera - while the international community here, was sort of cautious, but the Haitians were running the tests in the laboratory. They continue to run the tests. And they are also trying to figure out the origin.

They've also offered up a remedy. It is a homemade remedy, but it does work. So should they experience severe diarrhea, basically a mixture of water, salt and sugar, they should start drinking that right away and to get themselves to the closest clinic.

KELLY: OK. So, Jacqueline Charles, it sounds like bottom-line, just a few cases been reported so far in Port-au-Prince. They have been quarantined. But conditions being what they are, there's a lot of concern about where this could go?

Ms. CHARLES: Yes. They're basically bracing themselves for something that you know is coming. And unfortunately, I think, in Haiti right now it's not even a question of whether or not people will die, but there's a question of how many and how many lives can you save knowing that it's headed toward you.

KELLY: OK. That's Jacqueline Charles reporting for the Miami Herald. She's in Port-au-Prince.

Thanks so much.

Ms. CHARLES: Thank you.

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