Death In The Time Of Cholera

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Haiti, ravaged for centuries and suffering long before its enormous, destructive earthquake, now braces for a huge cholera epidemic.  The cholera epidemic on Saturday had already killed more than 200 and there are more than 2600 reported cases.  Today the news is still bad.  The NY Times reports:

Diarrhea, while a common ailment here, is a symptom of cholera. And anxiety has been growing fiercely that the cholera epidemic, which began last week in the northwest of Haiti, will soon strike the earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.

“It travels with the speed of lightning, I’ve heard, and it can kill a person in four hours,” said Jean Michel Maximilien, a camp leader. “So of course we are all on edge.”

For now, the cholera outbreak, with more than 250 deaths and more than 3,100 confirmed cases, has been contained to the central rural regions around the Artibonite River, 60 miles north of the capital. But Port-au-Prince is tensely preparing for its arrival in the densely populated slums and tent camps here, with treatment centers being established, soap and water purification tablets being distributed and public safety announcements stressing hygiene. …

Since the January earthquake, this devastated country has been bracing for a secondary disaster – a hurricane, an eruption of violence, an outbreak of disease. But nobody anticipated that cholera would make its first appearance in 50 years. It was “the one thing we thought we were relatively safe on,” said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the United Nations humanitarian coordination office.

Because so many in Haiti teeter on the brink, and because a cholera epidemic in Port au Prince and the rest of that beleaguered nation can be so horrible, this is a good time to make a small donation to Doctors Without Borders, who are already on the scene and providing treatment.

And then there’s Philip Roth’s most recent book, Nemesis, that explores a polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey in 1944.  I finished reading it last night; I had read the reviews when it came out earlier this month.  If like me you know Newark, and particularly the Weequahic area, the book brings back memories of the 50’s and early ’60’s.  And Bucky, the main character, is as familiar to you as any other kid you played stickball with.  If you don’t know that particular Newark, maybe you don’t quite get the book in the same way.

The epidemic in Newark, like the threatening one in Haiti, has its many mysteries.  Nobody knows exactly how it is spread.  Nobody knows what to do to stop it.  Flight seems a good idea, until the disease and death arrive anyway.  There is seemingly no escape.  There is no way to predict who will become ill and who will be untouched and who will die.  And in Haiti the options, because of the grinding poverty are far fewer.  Treatment will remain mostly unavailable. There will be many more fatalities even if the outbreak can be isolated in Antibonite.  What a horror.

My heart goes out to Haiti.  And to those who are there now.  May the epidemic be contained.  May they all be well.

Please make a donation to Doctors Without Borders.  This can help.

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simulposted at The Dream Antilles and dailyKos and The Stars Hollow Gazette

 

7 comments

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    • davidseth on October 25, 2010 at 3:34 pm
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    Doctors Without Borders.

    There are so many of us.  Even a few dollars can mount up to be substantial aid.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Edger on October 25, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    As far as I know it has not….

  1. Basic Facts on Cholera

    What is cholera?*

    Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by an infection in the intestines that can kill even a healthy adult in a matter of hours. Symptoms, including severe watery diarrhea, can surface in as little as two hours or up to five days after infection, and can then trigger extreme dehydration and kidney failure. With such a short incubation period, cholera can easily explode into an outbreak, as is the case currently in Central Haiti where there have been over 135 confirmed deaths.  

    Approximately 80 percent of people infected with the cholera bacterium never develop symptoms. However, the bacterium stays in their fecal matter for seven to 14 days, leaving others at risk of infection. Of those who develop symptoms, 80 percent of them are mild to moderate while between 10 and 20 percent develop severe watery diarrhea. If left untreated, as much as 50 percent of cholera cases can be fatal.

    How is cholera contracted?

    Cholera is caused by ingestion of the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. The infection is spread through contaminated fecal matter, which can be consumed through tainted food and water sources or because of poor sanitation and hygiene, like unwashed hands.

    What factors make populations at risk?

    Cholera is most common in areas that lack clean water sources and sanitation services. Areas like refugee camps and urban slums, where people live in close proximity with little to no access to clean water and sanitation facilities are at a very high risk of experiencing a cholera epidemic.

    In complex emergencies like war and natural disaster, in which thousands of people are displaced and forced to resettle amid poor living conditions, cholera is particularly a threat as health infrastructure is frequently damaged, destroyed or non-existent.

    How is it treated and prevented?

    Most cases – 80 percent – can be treated through oral rehydration salts (ORS), which help reverse dehydration and restore potassium levels following the onset of acute diarrhea. The most severe cases, in which the patient is extremely dehydrated, can be treated through intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics. . . .

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