Haiti Earthquake Poses Health Crisis for Impoverished Nation

After the initial rescue period, Besser said additional health consequences from the destroyed infrastructure can emerge. Areas of the country may lose water, sanitation and access to clean food, and all of this leads to additional health problems.

"Water is critical," he said. "An adult needs at least five liters of water a day. Dirty water is better than no water at all."

According to the World Health Organization, no city in Haiti has a public sewage system, and less than half of the population has access to drinking water services.

This kind of a crisis can raise the risk of outbreaks of infectious disease, particularly because so many people are left homeless, and refugee camps pose a risk for communicable diseases. The most prevalent infectious diseases are bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever, dengue fever, malaria and leptospirosis.

According to UNICEF, only about 50 percent of children in Haiti received vaccinations for diseases such as DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus), polio and measles in 2007.

But Besser noted that large outbreaks of infectious disease are relatively rare, and immediate efforts will be focused on those who can "use the care and need the assistance."

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approximately 1,000 people available, including environmental engineers, to address water and sanitation problems, and teams to "pick up on some of the public health programs."

Besser said public fears over dead bodies during a disaster are generally unfounded.

"That's one of the biggest myths," he said. "Everyone is most concerned about dead bodies. You're more likely to get a disease from a living person than a dead body."

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