Docs Warn of Looming Public Health Crisis

Infection, thirst, hunger, heat threaten earthquake survivors
By M. Morris,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2010 6:08 PM CST
Homes lays in ruins due to an earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Tuesday leaving thousands dead and many displaced.   (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)
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(Newser) – The death toll from the Haiti earthquake, which currently stands at 50,000, is certain to rise as the country's shattered infrastructure keeps medical professionals and relief workers from reaching people who need their help. "There are already high levels of diarrheal disease, respiratory disease and malnutrition," a public health expert tells MSNBC. "Bad will go to very much worse."

Particularly dangerous for injured survivors of earthquakes are crush injuries and broken bones, which can quickly lead to massive infections. Children, with their immature immune systems, are especially vulnerable. What's more, doctors are confronting battlefield-type conditions—from a century and a half ago. "Expect Gettysburg,” CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen quotes an experienced doctor warning as they arrived. "You know, the kind of medicine they practiced in the Civil War."

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