Haiti Cholera Outbreak -- Spreading to the U.S.?

HaitiA deadly cholera outbreak has hit Haiti, and officials say the disease could spread and plague the poverty stricken country for years to come.

As of Sunday, 3,015 known cases and 253 deaths linked to the disease had been recorded. However, since 75 percent of people infected show no symptoms, the actual number could be higher.

If you're trying to rack your brain as to what cholera even is, exactly, you're not alone. While for years, it was one of the world's most pressing health concerns, large outbreaks in recent memory have been few and far between in most developed nations.

But for many countries, including Haiti, it's a very real and dangerous threat still.

Here are six things you might not know about cholera:


1. It's a bacterial disease typically spread through contaminated water.

2. Symptoms can include vomitting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, severe dehydration, and shock.

3. People can die within hours of contracting cholera if they don't receive treatment.

4. Cholera is largely treatable if oral re-hydration salts are administered. (Up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated.)

5. The last outbreak of cholera in the United States was in 1911. U.S. President James Polk died from the disease in 1849. Our advanced water treatment and sewage methods make it unlikely that it would ever be a widespread problem again here.

6. Other countries with less advanced water treatment methods still are affected. According to the World Health Organization, between 3–5 million people contract cholera each year, and 100,000–120,000 die from it.

If you are traveling to an area that is affected by cholera (parts of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America), the Mayo Clinic offers this list of precautions you can take to greatly reduce your risk of contracting cholera including the following:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid untreated water.
  • Eat food that's completely cooked and hot.
  • Avoid sushi.
  • Be careful with fruits and vegetables.
  • Be wary of dairy foods. 

If you want to help fight the spread of cholera in Haiti, you can contribute to Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health who are assisting efforts.

Have you or anyone you know ever been affected by cholera?

Image via doctorswithoutborders.org

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