Local doctor works in Haitian hospital to help cholera victims

A local doctor who helps run a Haitian hospital says there is a cholera crisis in the hurricane-torn country.

POTOMAC, MD (WUSA9) - A local doctor who helps run a Haitian hospital, Hôpital Sacré Coeur, said there is a burgeoning cholera crisis in the hurricane-torn country. He said it is only going to get worse in the coming days and weeks.

Cholera is a bacterial disease that is often contracted through contaminated water, leaving its victims dehydrated. If left untreated, it can turn fatal. 

That doctor, Robert Freishtat, is also the chief of emergency medicine at the Children’s National Medical Center. He fears Cholera could claim even more Haitian lives, in addition to the 1,000 left dead after Hurricane Matthew. 

"Everybody suspects an outbreak is coming, and we are already seeing the cases rise," Freishtat said.

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HSC is located in the northern parts of Haiti and was spared from the effects of Hurricane Matthew, in part, because it is nestled against a mountain. Now, it is being used to isolate and treat patients with cholera. 

"That bay is full right now,” Freishtat said. “We have patients coming in to our emergency department there pretty regularly.”

Hurricane Matthew polluted Haiti's water supply, forcing residents to drink dirty water and risk catching cholera. The storm also destroyed some of the country's roads, making it difficult for the U.S. military and UN to deliver clean water and cholera vaccinations.

"That's where we really begin to have trouble because then the patients are becoming sick and we can't do anything," Freishtat said.  

Medical facilities like HSC are few and far between in Haiti. Long travel times and high medical expenses leave patients slow to seek treatment.

"They're not going to go until they know that they need to go,” Freishtat said. “And by that time, you've got a three- or four-hour ride to the hospital. It could be too late."

The disease rapidly drains patients of their body’s fluids.

"So it's the little ones or the weak ones that are most easily affected by the dehydration – kids, babies, elderly," Freishtat said.

If and when the expected outbreak is ousted, he said it will be difficult to count the fatalities.

“A lot of people will pass and there really is no record keeping,” he said.

Cholera is very contagious, but treatable.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization began bringing one million doses of the cholera vaccine to the island.

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