HAITI CHOLERA EPIDEMIC YET TO PEAK: WHO
GENEVA – The World Health Organisation's cholera chief warned on Wednesday that the epidemic in Haiti, which has so far killed 284 people, had not been contained and had yet to pass its peak."I don't think that it is contained. We cannot say it is contained," Claire-Lise Chaignat, coordinator of the WHO's Global Task Force on Cholera Control, told journalists.
On Sunday, Haiti's Foreign Minister Marie Michele Rey expressed confidence about tackling the disease and said it appeared to be under control for the time being. Chaignat said the WHO was recommending that authorities in Haiti prepare for the "worst case scenario", the spread of the cholera bacteria to the capital Port-au-Prince.
Thousands of displaced people there have been living in insalubrious conditions in tightly-packed makeshift camps there since the devastating earthquake on January 12, which left 250,000 people dead.Chaignat also warned that it was "too early to speak about a peak. I think we haven't reached the peak."
The death rate from cholera has decreased, with a case fatality rate now of 7.7 percent compared to 10 percent at the beginning, according to the WHO. However, that remains well above the UN health agency's accepted threshold of one percent.
More than 3,600 people have been infected in the sudden cholera outbreak in the impoverished Caribbean nation since it was uncovered last week.
The WHO's cholera experts remain mystified by the origins of the epidemic in Haiti.
"We are very surprised to see the epidemic in Haiti. We have never found cholera there before," Chaignat said.
However, it was not the first time that the bacterial disease has appeared in a country without an explanation, she added. The acute intestinal infection is caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria.
Although easily treated, it has a short incubation period of a few hours up to five days and causes acute watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death without treatment.
In March, the WHO expressed concern about the "growing number and frequency of major cholera outbreaks," following protracted outbreaks in Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, northern Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The UN health agency believes that the true global burden of the disease is much higher than the number of cases reported to it.