An outbreak of cholera has started in and around St Marc, a small city about 2 hours north of Port-au-Prince, along the coastal route to Gonaives. My collegue, Dr Joey Prosper, a Haitian physician, has been there for the past 2 days, helping to treat the 1000+ affected. He said that over a hundred people have died in 48 hours.
Cholera is a disease that causes excessive diarrhea and sometimes vomiting as well. It is spread from feces to water and food, and thereby can affect large numbers of people very quickly, especially by contaminating a town's water source. Cholera's greatest danger is severe dehydration due to loss of fluids.
The treatment is quite simple: rehydrate. Lots of fluids, rehydration salts, IV fluids in the more severe cases. Some drugs such as cipro, azithromycin, bactrim and erythromycin can help shorten the disease duration, but the most important actions are preventative: lots of hand washing, cleaning food, boiling or using treated water for drinking and cooking, careful disposal of human waste, and keeping healthy people away from those affected. In other words, we need to do a series of simple things that are going to be virtually impossible to do in the tent cities of Port-au-Prince.
Don't panic. But do pray. Please pray that the outbreak is contained before it ever reaches the capital. Because if it reaches the capital...