Haiti cholera to spread to Dominican Republic: WHO

A child suffering from cholera receives treatment at St-Catherine hospital in the slum of Cite-Soleil in Port-au-Prince November 12, 2010. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens

GENEVA (Reuters) - Haiti’s cholera epidemic will inevitably spread to the Dominican Republic but is likely to cause less devastation there, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

Many Haitians work in the Dominican Republic and because cholera infections often do not show symptoms, the water-borne disease could easily cross the border, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told a U.N. news briefing in Geneva.

“It is completely expected that there will be cases in the Dominican Republic. We are seeing the first signs of these cases and we are working with the government of the Dominican Republic to prepare,” Hartl said. He estimated the number of infections as “still in single digits, probably.”

More than 1,110 people have died in Haiti from the cholera outbreak, and more than 18,000 have become sick.

The disease is treatable with oral hydration salts -- or home-made solutions of 1 liter of water, 1 spoonful of salt and six spoonfuls of sugar -- but can be deadly if not caught early.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said that in the Dominican Republic better sanitary conditions meant the diarrhoeal illness should be less dangerous. “We don’t expect it to be as high as it is in Haiti,” he said of the severe illness and death rate.

Health officials in Florida have reported one confirmed cholera infection -- in a resident who visited family in Haiti -- but officials say the risk of a U.S. outbreak is minimal.

Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Jonathan Lynn