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Young children with cholera lie on cots as they are treated in Saint-Nicolas hospital where Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are treating cholera patients in St. Marc, Haiti. Haiti continues to deal with a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 and sickened thousands more. (Joe Raedle/Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Young children with cholera lie on cots as they are treated in Saint-Nicolas hospital where Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are treating cholera patients in St. Marc, Haiti. Haiti continues to deal with a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 and sickened thousands more. (Joe Raedle/Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Commonly-asked questions about cholera Add to ...

The Globe's public health reporter, André Picard, answers some common questions about the outbreak of cholera in Haiti.

What is cholera?

Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It kills an estimated 120,000 people worldwide each year, all in countries that do not meet minimal hygiene standards.

How does it spread?

Cholera is transmitted in contaminated water and food, and spreads when people share contaminated water. Dead bodies are often cited as the source of outbreaks. This is a myth.

Why an outbreak now?

There was great fear of outbreaks of infectious illness in Haiti immediately after the January earthquake, so the timing is a bit of a surprise. But the arrival of cholera speaks volumes about the lack of infrastructure in Haiti months after the natural disaster.

What are the symptoms?

Most people infected with V. cholerae have mild symptoms of stomach upset. But, in a significant minority of cases, the illness causes vomiting and violent diarrhea. Cholera is easily recognizable by the copious "rice water stool" of sufferers.

How is it treated?

Cholera is treated with inexpensive rehydration therapy - a prepackaged mixture of sugar and salts mixed with water consumed in large amounts. Some patients also require antibiotics.

How is an outbreak controlled?

The key is to implement hygiene measures - getting people to drink clean water and providing latrines. Vaccination is also recommended to slow the spread.

Follow on Twitter: @picardonhealth

 

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