HEALTH

Cholera Reaches Haitian Capital

A woman suffering from cholera symptoms is treated  at the St. Nicholas hospital in Saint Marc, Haiti, Monday, Nov. 8, 2010. After at least 20 people died when Hurricane Tomas brushed past Haiti, officials are now turning their attention back to a worsening cholera epidemic that has killed more than 500 people and hospitalized more than 7,300.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A woman suffering from cholera symptoms is treated at the St. Nicholas hospital in Saint Marc, Haiti, Monday, Nov. 8, 2010. After at least 20 people died when Hurricane Tomas brushed past Haiti, officials are now turning their attention back to a worsening cholera epidemic that has killed more than 500 people and hospitalized more than 7,300.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Haiti’s cholera outbreak reached its capital Tuesday, putting more than 3 million people at risk as the death toll from the disease continued climbing.

Half of Port-au-Prince’s population are squeezed into tent camps after the catastrophic earthquake in March left them homeless. Health authorities told The Associated Press on Monday that tests confirmed a 3-year-old boy from a quake refugee tent camp who hadn't been out of the city had caught the disease. More than 100 other suspected cholera cases among city residents also were being tested.

The outbreak has already killed at least 544 people in Haiti, Health Ministry Executive Director Gabriel Timothee told the AP.

The boy from the Route Batiment camp was tested after being taken to the Bernard Mevs/Project Medishare hospital Oct. 31 suffering from severe dehydration, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. He was treated with oral rehydration, IV fluids and antibiotics and was released.

A stool sample tested by Haiti's national laboratory contained vibrio cholerae 01, the bacteria causing the disease, the chief medical officer, Dr. Antonia Eyssallenne, confirmed to AP in an e-mail. The boy's family had not traveled in more than a year or had contact with anyone from the Artibonite Valley, where the epidemic was first registered and has wreaked its most ferocious damage.

Timothee said many of the patients hospitalized in the capital with cholera are believed to have recently arrived from the Artibonite Valley, an agricultural area where more than 6,400 of Haiti's known 8,138 cases have been recorded.

At least 114 of the people suspected of having the disease in the capital are in the Cite Soleil slum, the expansive oceanside shantytown at the capital's far northeastern edge and its closest point to the valley.

Since its discovery in late October, the disease has spread to half of Haiti's 10 administrative regions, or departments. More than 200 people have been hospitalized in the West department, where Port-au-Prince is located.

Cholera had never been documented in Haiti before its appearance last month.

In little more than three weeks it is suspected of infecting tens of thousands of people, though only about a quarter of people infected normally develop symptoms of serious diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Nearly 4 percent of the thousands hospitalized have died, most from extreme shock brought on by dehydration.

Officials are concerned that floods triggered by Hurricane Tomas on Friday and Saturday could exacerbate the spread of the disease, which is transmitted through the consumption of fecal matter contained in contaminated water or food. The release of a dam on the Artibonite River caused the infected waterway to swell Monday, but there were no reports of major flooding.

Living conditions in Port-au-Prince's earthquake camps have "deteriorated as a result of the storm," Boston-based Partners in Health said Monday.

Based on reporting from The Associated Press.

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