Haiti Cholera Toll Near 300, Disease Seen "Settling"

Deaths from Haiti's cholera epidemic approached 300 on Tuesday, and health experts said the illness would ""settle"" in the poor Caribbean nation, joining other endemic diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

The week-old epidemic of the deadly diarrheal disease has so far mostly affected the central Artibonite and Central Plateau regions, with an accumulated 295 deaths and 3,612 cases registered to date, Haitian health authorities said.

Although the number of new deaths and cases has slowed slightly from earlier days, a United Nations-led international medical response is fighting to prevent the outbreak from penetrating Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, which is crowded with 1.3 million homeless survivors of a January 12 earthquake.

The cholera epidemic has jolted the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation with another crisis 9-1/2 months after the catastrophic quake that killed more than a half a million people. It also comes a little over a month before the country is due to hold presidential and legislative elections on November 28.

Announcing updated case figures at a news conference, the Haitian health ministry's director of epidemiology Roc Magloire said that of five cases previously reported in the capital, only one had been confirmed by laboratory tests to be cholera.

Nevertheless, the U.N., the government, and its foreign aid partners are expecting the disease to spread further in its epidemic phase. They have launched a combined treatment, containment and prevention strategy for the whole country.

""The next news for us and for you is when geographically, new pockets of the epidemic ... emerge, in Port-au-Prince or elsewhere,"" Dr. Michel Thieren, the Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) top official in Haiti, told Reuters.

Suspected cases have been reported in Nord and Sud provinces, but are pending laboratory results."