Cholera in Haiti

An outbreak of cholera has been ongoing in Haiti since October 2010. This is the first cholera outbreak in Haiti in at least 100 years. This outbreak is of particular concern given the current conditions in Haiti, including poor water and sanitation, a strained public health infrastructure, and large numbers of people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake and more recent flooding.

The majority of cases have been reported in the Artibonite Departmente, approximately 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince, although the outbreak has spread to all areas of the country. Affected hospitals are strained by the large number of people who are ill.

For more information on cholera cases, see the Health Summary ReportExternal Web Site Icon from the Haiti Ministry of Health report.

What Is Cholera?

Cholera is a bacterial disease that can cause diarrhea and dehydration. Cholera is most often spread through the ingestion of contaminated food or drinking water. Water may be contaminated by the feces of an infected person or by untreated sewage. Food is often contaminated by water containing cholera bacteria or by being handled by a person ill with cholera.

How Can Travelers Protect Themselves?

Since the earthquake, the U.S. Department of State has maintained a travel warning for Haiti urging U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to Haiti. For more information, see http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5541.htmlExternal Web Site Icon.

Most travelers are not at high risk for getting cholera, but people who are traveling to Haiti should still take their own supplies to help prevent the disease and to treat it. Items to pack include

  • A prescription antibiotic to take in case of diarrhea
  • Water purification tablets*
  • Oral rehydration salts*

*In the United States, these products can be purchased at stores that sell equipment for camping or other outdoor activities.

Although no cholera vaccine is available in the United States, travelers can prevent cholera by following these 5 basic steps:

1) Drink and use safe water*
  • Bottled water with unbroken seals and canned/bottled carbonated beverages are safe to drink and use.
  • Use safe water to brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, and make ice.
  • Clean food preparation areas and kitchenware with soap and safe water and let dry completely before reuse.

*Piped water sources, drinks sold in cups or bags, or ice may not be safe. All drinking water and water used to make ice should be boiled or treated with chlorine.
To be sure water is safe to drink and use:

  • Boil it or treat it with water purification tablets, a chlorine product, or household bleach.
  • Bring your water to a complete boil for at least 1 minute.
  • To treat your water, use water purification tablets, if you brought some with you from the United States, or one of the locally available treatment products, and follow the instructions.
  • If a chlorine treatment product is not available, you can treat your water with household bleach. Add 8 drops of household bleach for every 1 gallon of water (or 2 drops of household bleach for every 1 liter of water) and wait 30 minutes before drinking
  • Always store your treated water in a clean, covered container.
2) Wash your hands often with soap and safe water*
  • Before you eat or prepare food
  • Before feeding your children
  • After using the latrine or toilet
  • After cleaning your child’s bottom
  • After taking care of someone ill with diarrhea

*If no soap is available, scrub hands often with ash or sand and rinse with safe water.

3) Use latrines or bury your feces (poop); do not defecate in any body of water
  • Use latrines or other sanitation systems, like chemical toilets, to dispose of feces.
  • Wash hands with soap and safe water after using toilets or latrines.
  • Clean latrines and surfaces contaminated with feces using a solution of 1 part household bleach to 9 parts water.

What if I don’t have a latrine or chemical toilet?

  • Defecate at least 30 meters away from any body of water and then bury your feces.
  • Dispose of plastic bags containing feces in latrines, at collection points if available, or bury it in the ground. Do not put plastic bags in chemical toilets.
  • Dig new latrines or temporary pit toilets at least a half-meter deep and at least 30 meters away from any body of water.
4) Cook food well (especially seafood), keep it covered, eat it hot, and peel fruits and vegetables*
  • Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it
  • Be sure to cook shellfish (like crabs and crayfish) until they are very hot all the way through.
  • Do not bring perishable seafood back to the United States.

*Avoid raw foods other than fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself.

5) Clean up safely—in the kitchen and in places where the family bathes and washes clothes
  • Wash yourself, your children, diapers, and clothes at least 30 meters away from drinking water sources.

Before departing for Haiti, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for an antibiotic. If you get sick with diarrhea while you are in Haiti, you can take the antibiotic, as prescribed. Also, remember to drink fluids and use oral rehydration salts (ORS) to prevent dehydration.

If you have severe watery diarrhea, seek medical care right away.

Medical care facilities are strained with the high number of people who are ill. If you will be traveling to Haiti, CDC recommends that you purchase medical evacuation insurance in the event that you become ill while in Haiti. (See the U.S. Department of State list of U.S.-Based Air Ambulance or Medical Evacuation CompaniesExternal Web Site Icon.) If you are in Haiti and need medical care and you do not have access to medical evacuation, you can contact the Embassy of the United States in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, (American Citizens Services Unit office hours are 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Consular Section is closed on U.S. and local holidays.):

Boulevard du 15 October, Tabarre 41, Tabarre, Haiti
Telephone: (509) (2) 229-8000
Facsimile: (509) (2) 229-8027
Email: acspap@state.gov

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