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Haiti faces years of cholera

Cholera deaths are climbing sharply in Haiti, after the infection reached the capital, Port-au-Prince, as feared. Epidemiologists who have studied other outbreaks predict that hundreds of thousands of Haitians will be stricken by the infection over the next few years as cholera takes hold in the country.

Nearby countries are also at risk, with unconfirmed reports of cases in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. UN peacekeepers may have been the inadvertent source of the bacteria.

The Haitian outbreak began in the third week of October. The number of known deaths climbed to 544 by 7 November, but has since started to climb sharply with the official number of deaths now nearly 1000 (see an interactive map here).

"We expect these numbers to continue to rise," Jon Andrus, deputy head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization's regional office for the Americas, said last week. As the disease penetrates remote areas, the real toll could be much higher than the official count.

The bacteria spread when infected faeces contaminate water supplies, especially when flooding disrupts sanitation systems. The outbreak started along the Artibonite river while it was flooding. Conditions were worsened by further flooding after hurricane Tomas struck Haiti on 5 November, and cholera persists as long as people keep reinfecting water. "One might expect upwards of 270,000 cases if Haiti's epidemic continues for several years," said Andrus.
 
 

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