| Updated at: 0036 PST, Sunday, October 24, 2010|
PORT-AU-PRINCE: A sudden cholera epidemic has killed more than 208 people, officials said Saturday as Haiti scrambled to contain a wider outbreak 10 months after an earthquake devastated the Caribbean nation.
A few days after the first cases appeared in the north, the outbreak looked to be moving closer to the capital, Port-au-Prince, which is heavily populated by homeless residents in tent cities where sanitation is poor.
"We have recorded more than 208 dead," said Gabriel Thimote, the health ministry's director general. Of those 194 occurred in the Artibonite department in northern Haiti and 14 in central Haiti closer to the capital.
Around 3,000 people have been admitted to hospitals and health centers which were struggling to cope with overwhelming rush of sick patients as Haiti grapples with its first cholera outbreak in over a century.
More than 50 inmates at a prison in the center of the country have been infected with cholera, and three inmates have died, officials said.
"The situation is under control. The population should not give in to panic, but people must take hygienic measures seriously," said Jocelyne Pierre-Louis, a physician with the health ministry.
President Rene Preval and Health Minister Alex Larsen toured regions affected by the epidemic on Saturday, as authorities vowed they were working to provide clean water to residents.
On Friday, the health ministry asked the United Nations operations in Haiti to take charge of distributing medication that is being sent by international donors.
The Canadian government has offered to set up a military hospital in Haiti and the United States has pledged to set up large tents to treat patients on the ground.