The cholera epidemic in Haiti is spreading faster than public health agencies originally estimated, the senior United Nations official said on Tuesday.

In a few short weeks since the outbreak began, 1,344 people have lost their lives to the disease, which has rocked an already struggling, earthquaked-ravaged Haiti, trying to rebuild.

UN humanitarian coordinator Nigel Fisher said the number of deaths linked to the outbreak may be closer to 2,000 because remote and rural areas are likely underreporting illnesses.  He said that the number of cases, currently estimated to be 50,000, is likely in the 60,000-70,000 range.

In the briefing with reporters Tuesday Fisher said that public health officials are reworking their estimates.

“They are now revising that to 200,000 in closer to a three-month period. So this epidemic is moving faster,” he said, adding that it was now present in all 10 of Haiti’s provinces.  “It’s going to spread.

“The medical specialists all say that this cholera epidemic will continue through months and maybe a year at least, that we will see literally hundreds of thousands of cases,” Fisher said.

Officials are working frantically to build infrastructure to treat and contain those affected, but the widespread lack of sanitation, access to contaminated water, and the extremely contagious nature of the disease are making it nearly impossible.  Fisher called on aid groups to “significantly ratchet up” the response to the outbreak to distribute more chlorine tablets to purify water and to increase access to treatment centers.

Cholera is a bacterial disease, transmitted primarily through contaminated water or food, that causes severe hydration, watery diarrhea, vomiting, and can be deadly if untreated.