ST. MARC, Haiti – An outbreak of severe diarrhea in rural central Haiti has killed at least 135 people and sickened hundreds more who overwhelmed a crowded hospital Thursday seeking treatment.
Hundreds of patients lay on blankets in a parking lot outside St. Nicholas hospital in the port city of St. Marc with IVs in their arms for rehydration. As rain began to fall in the afternoon, nurses rushed to carry them inside.
Doctors were testing for cholera, typhoid and other illnesses in the Caribbean nation’s deadliest outbreak since a January earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people.
Catherine Huck, deputy country director for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the Caribbean nation’s health ministry had recorded 135 deaths and more than 1,000 infected people.
“What we know is that people have diarrhea, and they are vomiting, and (they) can go quickly if they are not seen in time,” said Huck. She said doctors were still awaiting lab results to pinpoint the disease.
The president of the Haitian Medical Association, Claude Surena, said the cause appeared to be cholera, but added that had not been confirmed by the government.
“The concern is that it could go from one place to another place, and it could affect more people or move from one region to another one,” he said.
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial infection spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that can lead to dehydration and death within hours. Treatment involves administering a salt and sugar-based rehydration serum.
Trucks loaded with medical supplies including rehydration salts were to be sent from Port-au-Prince to the hospital, said Jessica DuPlessis, an OCHA spokeswoman. Doctors at the hospital said they also needed more personnel to handle the flood of patients.
Aid groups were mobilizing to ship medicine, water filtration units and other relief supplies to the Artibonite region.