Port-Au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- A cholera outbreak in Haiti continues to spread to previously unaffected areas in rural communities, killing 442 people and hospitalizing 6,742 others, the Pan American Health Organization said Wednesday.
Health authorities are concerned that the situation may worsen as Tropical Storm Tomas approaches the impoverished nation, still recovering from a devastating January earthquake that killed 250,000 people and left 1 million homeless. Tomas is projected to pass over Haiti on Friday.
Health officials set up six cholera treatment centers in Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital. Four of the centers are fully operational, the Pan American Health Organization said. Four more are planned.
Officials hope to create 2,000 beds in the treatment centers, the health agency said.
In addition, the agency said, cholera treatment tents will be established at 14 hospitals in Port-au-Prince as soon as Tomas clears the island nation.
Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by ingestion of bacteria-contaminated food or water. The infection causes watery diarrhea and vomiting, which can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if not treated promptly. About 80 percent of cases can be cured by rehydrating the patient, the Pan American Health Organization said.
The disease is one of the leading causes of death in the world, particularly in developing countries. There are an estimated 3 million to 5 million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths every year worldwide, the health agency said.