Cholera in Haiti: Is It Here to Stay?

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A frightening speculation: Haiti's cholera epidemic -- which began claiming lives in late October -- may last for several years. The disease is transmitted through contaminated food and water, and thrives in areas where sanitation and hygiene are lacking. Haiti's devastating January 12 earthquake may have provided the perfect conditions for the disease to spread.

But the earthquake isn't the reason it will remain a problem for years to come.

Unfamiliarity with the disease is a problem in Haiti. Fear brings patients to the overcrowded hospitals with unrelated symptoms, while nursing staff, who are in very short supply, have to be taught to recognise and treat cholera and overcome their own fear of infection.

Once the infection takes hold, it is hard to keep in check. People in Haiti move about, travelling to market, to visit friends or get work. The old idea of a "cordon sanitaire" to prevent the movement of infection is not practicable, said Kate Alberti, an epidemiologist working with Médecins sans Frontières in Haiti. "If you close the official channels people find another way to cross," she said. The arrival of cholera in the capital was no surprise.

Fighting the epidemic is hard. The first priority is to treat people, which needs to be done in cholera treatment centres away from other sick people in hospitals.

Massive efforts are under way but it is hard to find even land to erect a shelter in earthquake-devastated Port-au-Prince. The logistics are the hardest part - cholera is relatively easy to treat with antibiotics if people arrive in time.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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