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Cholera death toll near 300 in Haiti

By the CNN Wire Staff
Doctors receive hundreds of Cholera patients per day at the hospital in L'Estere on October 26, 2010.
Doctors receive hundreds of Cholera patients per day at the hospital in L'Estere on October 26, 2010.
  • NEW: Education the key, a health official says
  • The death toll from the cholera outbreak is at 292 in Haiti
  • Medical teams are working around the clock
  • The United Nations worries about the outbreak spreading

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(CNN) -- The death toll from Haiti's cholera outbreak has risen to 292, the Haitian government said Wednesday. There are 4,147 confirmed cases.

Crucial to curbing the crisis are education, more primary care centers and a network of cholera treatment centers, said Jon K. Andrus, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization.

The 1991 cholera epidemic did not reach Haiti and many other Western Hemisphere countries, Andrus said, indicating citizens thus did not learn about crucial sanitation measures.

What is cholera?

"We are seeing a very rapid, very explosive outbreak with a very steep academic [learning] curve," Andrus said during a conference call Wednesday.

Video: Signs of hope in Haiti
Video: Cholera epidemic in Haiti
Video: Haiti's dangerous waters
Video: Struggle to distribute aid
  • Haiti
  • Cholera

Health aides are in Haitian camps, educating people about proper food, water and waste treatment, he said. Oral rehydration salts are saving lives, he added.

The goal is to provide 24-hours-a-day medical care, Andrus said.

"It will take some months to turn the tide," he said, indicating health officials can expect cholera cases in Haiti for the next several years.

Cholera cases up worldwide

Although there are no confirmed cases in neighboring Dominican Republic, health officials are there to help it prepare for likely cases.

Calling Haiti's cholera outbreak "an extremely serious situation," a United Nations official expressed concern Monday that the infectious disease could spread and grow to "tens of thousands of cases."

"It would be irresponsible to plan for anything but a considerably wider outbreak," said Nigel Fisher, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Haiti.

CARE has medical teams working around the clock to treat patients in the affected area.

"We also are working in Port-au-Prince, providing hygiene and water purification tablets," CARE spokesman Brian Feagans told CNN.

Volunteer Susan Dennery of Phoenix, Arizona, who was just in Haiti, told CNN the number of patients needing treatment has remained high.

"It was very sad," the medical ultrasonographer said of a triage center in Artibonite. "They are distraught. They don't complain."