A cholera epidemic in northern Haiti has claimed 135 lives and infected 1,500 people over the last few days, Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association, said.
The epidemic has not yet reached the major displaced persons camps in and around the capital Port-au-Prince, which was ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake in January that left 1.2
million people homeless.
But officials fear an outbreak in densely populated tent cities that have poor sanitation and meager medical facilities has the potential of unleashing a public health disaster.
"According to the results of the analysis carried out in the laboratory it is cholera," Surena yesterday confirmed to AFP of the outbreak in Saint Marc, about 100 kilometers north of the capital.
"Hospitals and medical centers in the region are overwhelmed and numerous deaths have been registered," said
Gabriel Timothe, director general of the Haitian health ministry.
"There are several hundred people in hospital, and we are evacuating a number of the sick patients to other centers," he added.
Health officials contacted by AFP confirmed most of the deaths were along the Artibonite river that crosses the center and north of the country.
Doctors earlier said 26 deaths had been registered and more than 400 people hospitalized, but the figures continued to rise throughout the day.
Across the most affected region of Artibonite, some 80 deaths have been counted so far, according to medical sources contacted by telephone.
In Saint Marc's Saint Nicolas hospital, confusion and fear gripped patients and their relatives Thursday as many of the sick brought to the small facility were left on the floor because all the beds were taken.
Edner Philemon, 22, told AFP at the Saint Nicolas hospital he was feeling very weak due to losing so much weight in two days, saying he was also "mourning the loss of three family members from diarrhea in a matter of hours."
"We're facing an outbreak of diarrhea... which causes rapid death of patients of all ages. This has to do with the quality of water in the affected communities," said doctor
Haiti is still struggling to rebuild after the devastating quake that killed some 250,000 people, and left hundreds of thousands of people crammed into the makeshift tent cities throughout the ruined capital.