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Decline in cholera surge in Haiti may be only temporary

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In April, MSF’s cholera caseload had declined to fewer than 400 patients per week in Port-au-Prince. Then in May cases suddenly started increasing rapidly. In the second week of June, MSF treated 2,891 cases, more than six times the number of cases treated in the last week of April.

For now, the surge may be starting to subside. In the week ended June 19, MSF treated 1,470 cases, a reduction of almost 50 percent over the previous week.

“Last week’s decrease in cases is good news, but we can’t get complacent. The cholera epidemic in Haiti is far from over,” said MSF head of mission Sylvain Groulx. “Healthcare providers must remain at the ready. And serious improvements are still urgently needed in hygiene, sanitation and drinking water supply.

“Especially with the coming hurricane season, and the second rainy season, the epidemic could surge again at any time.”

Between May 2 and June 19, MSF treated 11,082 patients for cholera in Port-au-Prince. In that period 39 patients died, less than 0.4 percent of total cases treated. Cholera is a serious disease that kills rapidly if it is not treated rapidly. Nevertheless MSF always insists on achieving a mortality rate of less than two percent.

In response to the surge, MSF rapidly increased its cholera treatment capacity in Port-au-Prince to more than 1,000 beds at eight treatment facilities around the city. MSF also held a press conference in Port-au-Prince on June 3 that called on government and international health actors to ensure an adequate response. MSF continues to stress the need for the Haitian health authorities to improve their cholera monitoring and treatment capacity.

While the Carrefour neighbourhood seems to have borne the brunt of the recent upsurge, the cause is still unclear. MSF epidemiologists and water and sanitation specialists are taking steps to address the sources of cholera transmission and prevent the spread of the disease.

Since the start of the Haitian cholera epidemic in October 2010, MSF has treated more than 140,000 patients all over Haiti, or about 40 percent of the more than 330,000 reported cases.  Cholera has killed more than 5,000 Haitians in the past eight months.

Cholera can kill quickly, but is easily treated if caught early. The bacteria that cause it typically spread due to poor sanitation. Haitians can best defend themselves against cholera through good hygiene practices, early detection and treatment, and by drinking chlorinated water.