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A woman in Haiti collects water with a dirty bucket. A woman collects water with a dirty bucket. She will use this water to clean the table where she sells raw meat at a market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Cholera is frequently caused by dirty water. (Kena Betancur / Reuters)

Disease Breaks Out in Haiti

Relief agencies scramble to care for the sick and stop the spread of a disease called cholera

By Laura Leigh Davidson | November 23 , 2010
<br /><strong>TOP:</strong> A relative mourns a child who died of cholera. Hundreds have died because of the illness.<strong><br /><br />BOTTOM:</strong> Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit hardest by the earthquake in January. This is also where cholera struck first in October.<br /><br />(Emilio Morenatti / AP Images; Jim McMahon)

TOP: A relative mourns a child who died of cholera. Hundreds have died because of the illness.

BOTTOM:
Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit hardest by the earthquake in January. This is also where cholera struck first in October.

(Emilio Morenatti / AP Images; Jim McMahon)

The people of Haiti face yet another challenge after an earthquake left much of the country in ruins last January. A deadly disease called cholera [KAH-luh-ruh] is now spreading throughout the country.

Cholera is a common but potentially deadly disease caused by unsanitary (dirty and unhealthy) conditions. Humans get it mainly by drinking water that is not clean.

More than 1.3 million people have been living in tent cities since last January, when an earthquake destroyed the country's capital, Port-au-Prince. These refugee camps have few toilets and no clean water for drinking, cooking, or bathing.

Medical officials first started seeing people with cholera in late October. The disease spread quickly from the tent cities to more populated areas of the country.

As of Monday, 1,344 people had died because of cholera and about 57,000 have received treatment. Medical officials estimate that about 200,000 people will be affected by the disease.

HELPING HAITI GET HEALTHY

It is easy to recover from the disease if it is treated early. Patients drink salty or sugary water to restore lost fluids. Then they take antibiotics to knock out the disease.

But even though treatment is simple, Haiti does not have enough doctors, nurses, and supplies to treat the thousands who have contracted cholera. The country's weak health care and water cleaning systems are making the problems worse.

The Haitian government and relief agencies like the Red Cross are asking people to drink only clean water. They are teaching people how to steer clear of the germs that cause cholera.

The United Nations (UN) has started a $164 million fund-raising effort to pay for more doctors and supplies. That money will also go toward construction of distribution systems for clean water.

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