WHO rushes help to deadly north Haiti disease outbreak

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UN health experts were rushing to northern Haiti to help tackle a sudden outbreak of diarrhoeal disease that has left 150 dead, with tests underway to see if it was cholera, a WHO spokeswoman said.

"For the time being we cannot confirm that it is cholera," World Health Organisation spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told journalists, underlining that the country has not reported an outbreak of the disease for over a century.

"Several stool samples have been taken and we are expecting the results later on," Chaib told journalists in Geneva.

The WHO spokeswoman said Haitian authorities asked for assistance with the outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting.

"Although we cannot confirm the nature of this illness until the laboratory results are given to us we are concerned at the speed which which it has spread."

Haitian officials said on Thursday that 135 people had died and 1,500 people were taken ill with the disease.

The outbreak is being blamed on the Artibonite river, an artery crossing Haiti's rural center that thousands of people use for much of their daily activities from washing to cooking.

The WHO said Friday that 150 had died, with the same number infected.

Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association, told AFP that laboratory analysis on the outbreak in Saint Marc, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital Port-Au-Prince, showed it was cholera.

Chaib said: "Medical teams have been mobilised including epidemiologists from our office in Washington, medical supplies are being provided to the local hospitals, including 10,000 boxes of rehydration tablets and water purification sachets."

More teams of international health experts in Haiti were also travelling to the area to assist the local authorities, she added.

The epidemic has grown in the past few days but had not reached the major camps for displaced people in and around Port-au-Prince further south.

The city was ravaged by a 7.0 earthquake in January that left 1.2 million people homeless.

But officials in the country fear an outbreak in densely populated tent cities that have poor sanitation and meager medical facilities has the potential of unleashing a public health disaster.

© 2010 AFP

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