More than nine months after the country’s devastating earthquake, a cholera epidemic has sickened thousands. Why does this infectious disease persist? David Sack, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explains After a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti in January, many experts worried that devastating outbreaks of infectious diseases would soon invade the region. In a nation where a large part of the population already lived without access to reliable sanitation and clean water, a disaster that further disrupted infrastructure seemed likely to lead to widespread infections, such as cholera, which spreads through feces-contaminated water. Although more than a million people are still living in tent encampments following the disaster, it was not until late last week that news of a potential cholera outbreak first emerged.
Some 259 people have died from the bacterial infection so far and another 3,342 have been sickened, according to Haiti’s Ministry of Health, the BBC reports. Officials fear that the outbreak, which seems to have started around the Artibonite and Plateau Central regions, north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, could become endemic to the city, where about 89 percent of residents live in slums or slum-like conditions. Five people there have been diagnosed with the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but they likely contracted the illness before arriving in the capital.”There are limited ways you can wash your hands and keep your hands washed with water in slums like we have here,” Michel Thieren, an official from the Pan-American Health Organization, told the Associated Press.