"Doctors and aid workers worry that a wave of infectious disease may soon spread through Haiti, with masses of the newly homeless clustering in public spaces without clean water or sanitation.
"An infectious diarrhea can sweep through a population like that very quickly," said Greg Elder, deputy operations manager for Haiti at Doctors Without Borders. Such an outbreak, which could arise within a week, could be deadly for infants, the sick and others left vulnerable by disease, exhaustion and a lack of food, he said.
Other diseases that can be fatal in vulnerable populations could spread. Respiratory infections are a threat, as are vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, Dr. Elder said. About half of Haitian children aren't vaccinated against measles, according to a 2006 Unicef report.
Even cuts and lacerations that become infected pose a serious risk. "These kinds of infections are a major cause of death" in the aftermath of a disaster, said Paul Garwood, a World Health Organization spokesman."
Jacob Goldstein and Avery Johnson report for the Wall Street Journal with Betsy McKay and Steve Stecklow January 15, 2010.