| Updated at: 0127 PST, Friday, November 19, 2010|
WASHINGTON: The deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti is virulent and unpredictable, and repeated outbreaks could wreak havoc for years to come, US officials and health experts warned on Thursday.
"This strain of cholera seems to be more virulent than normal strains," Thomas Adams, the special US coordinator for Haiti, told reporters.
"The disease fooled us," added Adams, saying a cholera outbreak was feared likely in the impoverished Caribbean nation following January's deadly earthquake, but most expected it to break out in the capital Port-au-Prince.
More than 1,100 people have died from the diarrhea-causing illness since it emerged in central and northern parts of the country last month, with more than 18,000 people infected.
A case of cholera has also been found in both the neighboring Dominican Republic and the US state of Florida. Both victims traveled from Haiti.
"The course of the cholera outbreak in Haiti is difficult to predict," the the US-based Centers for Disease Control said in a report on the progress of the disease and efforts to stop its deadly course.
"The Haitian population has no preexisting immunity to cholera, and environmental conditions in Haiti are favorable for its continued spread," it said.
"Longer-term persistence of (the bacterium) V. (Vibrio) cholerae in the environment in Haiti and recurrent cholera outbreaks also are possible."
While the initial source of the bacteria-based disease was likely contaminated water in the Artibonite River, future outbreaks could result from tainted food, the CDC said.
"Risk factors for illness might change as the outbreak expands over time. Contamination of food by persons who are ill, either via the use of contaminated water or poor food preparation hygiene also can contribute to the spread of disease."
Haiti has long suffered from dismal sanitation and polluted drinking water, a situation that worsened after the devastating 7.0 earthquake in January that displaced more than a million people and killed 250,000.