THE DEATH rate appeared to be slowing, but fears of a cholera epidemic still gripped Haiti yesterday as health officials stressed that it was far too early to establish whether the recent outbreak of the disease had been properly contained.
Only a handful of new cases were reported as a massive aid effort swung into action to provide extra supplies of clean water to the refugee camps where roughly 1.5 million people are still living after being left homeless by January's earthquake.
In Port-au-Prince, hospitals stayed open round the clock to new patients suspected of having contracted the disease, which causes severe diarrhoea and rapid dehydration, and if undiagnosed can kill victims within hours.
A public information campaign, warning people to wash their hands and only drink purified water, seemed to have helped stem the spread of the outbreak, which has killed more than 250 and infected around 3,000 Haitians in a week.
"Everyone is aware of what to look for now, and what's been going on, so people are being very careful not to put themselves at risk," said David Darg, an aid worker with the organisation Operation Blessing, who was in the capital city yesterday.
"Understandably, there's been a slight sense of hysteria. A lot of rumours circulate and nerves are already frayed, so people here tend to react nervously to news.
"A lot of mums are rushing children to hospital when they actually have a simple case of mild diarrhoea. But that's probably a good thing.
"I'm also seeing a lot of people walking around with cotton wool in their nostrils. That, of course, does nothing to prevent cholera spreading, since it's carried by water, but it does show the lengths the general public is taking to protect itself."
At the weekend, officials feared the disease would spread rapidly through Port-au-Prince, a hugely overcrowded city that was largely reduced to rubble by the earthquake which killed an estimated 300,000 people.
A spokeswoman said the charity remained "pretty confident" that a second group of 300 volunteers -- due to depart on Saturday -- would be given the green light to go.