The earthquake in Haiti may have killed as many as 200,000 people by some estimates. About 2 million Haitians are left homeless or without food and clean water. As the world rushes to their aid, another series of equally deadly threats is appearing. Illnesses are striking the survivors and they may be deadly to many.
Thousands of Haitians survived being buried in the earthquake. Crawling from the rubble on their own, or rescued by others, they have a wide variety of injuries. Limbs are crushed. There are lacerations, penetrating wounds and abrasions of all sizes.
Each wound is subject to infection. The lack of first aid and medical supplies has meant that many of the wounded have been bandaged with whatever was available, usually a non-sterile rag. Doctors are finding wound infections, and in particular, gangrene.
Gangrene is an infection caused by the loss of good blood flow to an injured area of the body. Many of the crush injuries to limbs should have been cleaned, damaged tissue repaired or removed and a sterile dressing applied. That did not happen and medics are seeing severe cases of gangrene. Doctors providing aid are having to amputate many arms and legs due to the lack of immediate medical care.
Clean water is necessary for medical purposes. It is far more vital to sustain life. With the municipal water supply destroyed and aid just arriving for many, the survivors have been living on water from puddles, old cisterns and trapped in pipes. This opens them up to a variety of waterborne illnesses such as hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera and a vast number of diseases that cause diarrhea. Many of these illnesses are fatal if untreated. Even mild illnesses, in a population like that in Haiti at this time, can prove fatal and diarrhea will kill many children and the elderly.
Haiti has a number of illnesses that are endemic and those will not have disappeared due to the quake. Mosquito borne illnesses like malaria can be expected to increase as the authorities are occupied with more pressing matters than insect control and the ruins will provide more places for the insects to breed.
Haiti has the highest per capita tuberculosis rate in the region. Any treatments that were underway in the area of Haiti affected by the earthquake will have been interrupted. The aftereffects from the quake will be a serious setback for both TB patients and the public health officials trying to control the illness.
TB is not the deadliest infection on the island. HIV / AIDS is the number one infectious disease in that nation. The quake will have disrupted any sort of treatment program. Large numbers of those not infected will have been exposed to the virus by assisting infected and injured Haitians who were bleeding.