iStock/Thinkstock(PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti) — As the remnants of Hurricane Matthew dissipate, Haitian government officials and aid groups are gearing up for a possible health crisis.
On Monday, the Haitian Ministry of Interior said that 1.4 million people are said to be “urgent need” of help and dozens of cholera cases have been reported, spurring fears of a massive outbreak.
Garrett Ingoglia, a vice president of emergency response for the aid group Americares, said he has seen areas where 90 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed. “Crops are destroyed; there is no food, not a lot of clean water,” Ingoglia told ABC News.
The damaged infrastructure has already led to a rise in cases of cholera. The aid group Doctors Without Borders said that at just one hospital in Port-a-Piment, 60 patients have been reported to have the disease.
“Cholera is a huge issue, as soon as the hurricane hit people said, ‘OK, we have to be ready for cholera,’ but I don’t think people expected it to come this fast or this severely,” Ingoglia told ABC News.
At a badly damaged hospital in Jeremie, cholera patients were quarantined in makeshift huts and workers furiously cut plywood to make more beds. The hospital has even put two patients in one bed.
As medical staff treated dozens of patients, hospital officials told ABC News they’re worried this is just the beginning of an outbreak.
Officially, the hospital has treated 55 patients for cholera, but dozens of people were waiting outdoors to be seen by doctors.
Cholera became endemic to the country after the 2010 earthquake when at least 470,000 were infected with the disease. At least 6,631 people died from cholera in the year after the earthquake, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cholera is a disease that is usually treated with supportive care including intravenous fluids, fluids taken orally and antibiotics. But health experts report that in Haiti an outbreak of the disease could be devastating as areas are cut off from medical assistance.
Ingoglia reported there are areas that swaths of the country that are nearly unreachable since roads have bocame “impassable” due to debris.
“All around the tip of the peninsula that area has gotten very little aid, you can’t drive there, helicopter is the only way to get there,” he said. “Roads are closed. Food, water, medicine, everything has been impossible to get there.”
Cholera is a bacterial infection that can lead to potentially serious symptoms of water diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often spread through contaminated water or food, the incubation period of the disease can be as short as two hours, meaning it can move quickly through a densely populated area. As the mucus membrane of the intestinal wall is affected, it can lead to diarrhea that can cause severe dehydration.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said treatment is simple but that without basic supplies and medical knowledge, people can become dangerously dehydrated from the disease.
“You need resources. I think limitations that Haiti has had … this will once again be very challenging for them,” he said.
Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.