PORT-AU-PRINCE – An outbreak of severe diarrhea in central Haiti has killed nearly 50 people in recent days and more than 450 have been hospitalized, a senior Haitian health official said on Thursday.
Health Department Director General Dr. Gabriel Thimote told Reuters that sick patients were overwhelming hospitals in the country’s Artibonite and the Central Plateau regions, north of the capital Port-au-Prince. Haitian authorities had contacted the World Health Organization, he added.
Many of the 49 victims died in a matter of hours from dehydration as they tried to reach a hospital, Thimote said. He said samples taken from the dead and sick were being urgently analyzed in a laboratory to determine exactly what caused the diarrhea.
“We cannot talk about epidemics for now. We prefer to talk about an outbreak of severe diarrhea,” Thimote said. The victims were of all ages, but the young and the elderly appeared to be the most affected, he added.
The outbreak appeared to be the most serious health incident to affect the poor Caribbean country since a devastating January 12 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people and injured many more.
The quake left around 1.5 million homeless survivors living in crowded tent and tarpaulin camps in and around Port-au-Prince, but despite initial fears of epidemics, a massive international relief effort has prevented any serious outbreaks of infectious diseases in the wrecked capital.
So far, the diarrhea outbreak is affecting Haiti’s central farming region and no victims have been reported in Port-au-Prince. The worst-affected areas were Douin, Marchand Dessalines and zones around Saint-Marc in the Artibonite region, Thimote said.
Aid workers said health groups participating in earthquake relief had been alerted about the diarrhea outbreak and were responding.
(Reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech)
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