PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - A cholera outbreak that already has left 250 people dead and more than 3,000 sickened is at the doorstep of an enormous potential breeding ground: the squalid camps in Port-au-Prince where 1.3 million earthquake survivors live. Health authorities and aid workers are scrambling to keep the tragedies from merging and the deaths from multiplying.
Five cholera patients have been reported in Haiti's capital, heightening worries that the disease could reach the sprawling tent slums where abysmal hygiene, poor sanitation, and widespread poverty could rapidly spread it. But government officials said Sunday that all five apparently got cholera outside Port-au-Prince, and they voiced hope that the deadly bacterial disease could be confined to the rural areas where the outbreak originated last week.
"It's not difficult to prevent the spread to Port-au-Prince. We can prevent it," said Health Ministry director Gabriel Timothee. He said tightly limiting movement of patients and careful disposal of bodies can stave off a major medical disaster.
If efforts to keep cholera out of the camps fail, "The worst case would be that we have hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time," said Claude Surena, president of the Haiti Medical Association. Cholera can cause vomiting and diarrhea so severe it can kill from dehydration in hours.
Robyn Fieser, a spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services, said she was confident that aid groups and the Haitian government will be prepared to respond to an outbreak should it occur in the camps. But she stressed that the challenge of preventing its spread is "immense."