March 16, 2011

Cholera Threat In Haiti Larger Than Previous Estimates

Experts fear the cholera epidemic affecting Haiti may be worse than officials previously thought.

According to the latest estimates, the diarrheal disease could strike double the original prediction of 400,000 people.

Researchers wrote in The Lancet journal that aid efforts will need ramping up.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that everything possible is being done in order to contain the disease.

There were no cases of cholera reported on Haiti for over a century until last year's devastating earthquake.

The disease spreads person-to-person through contaminated food and water.

Cholera causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, which leads to dangerous dehydration.

About 150,000 people in Haiti contracted cholera between October and December 2010, and about 3,500 people died from it.

The United Nations projected that the total number of people infected would likely rise to 400,000, but researchers from the University of California - San Francisco said that this is a gross underestimate.

They believe that the toll could reach up to 779,000, with 11,100 deaths by the end of November 2011.

Dr. Sanjay Basu and colleagues used data from Haiti's ministry of health to determine their estimate.

The researchers said the U.N. estimates were "crude" and based on "a simple assumption" that the disease would infect a set portion of Haiti's 10 million population.

The team took into account factors like which water supplies have been contaminated and how much immunity the population has to the disease.

They believe that the number of cholera cases will be substantially higher than official estimates.

"The epidemic is not likely to be short-term," Basu wrote in The Lancet journal. "It is going to be larger than predicted in terms of sheer numbers and will last far longer than the initial projections."

However, researchers say that thousands of lives could be saved by provision of clean water, vaccination and expanded access to antibiotics.

A spokesman for the World Health Organization told BBC:  "We have to be cautious because modeling does not necessarily reflect what's seen on the ground.

"Latest figures show there have been 252,640 cases and 4,672 deaths as of 10 March 2011.

"We really need to reconstruct water and sanitation systems for the cholera epidemic to go away completely.

"It's a long-term process and cholera is going to be around for a number of years yet."


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