PORT-AU-PRINCE - HAITI cholera deaths rose on Sunday above 250 but the number of new infections and fatalities began to taper off, offering hope the epidemic might have been contained.

The new toll of 253 dead and 3,015 infections, provided by the director general of Haiti's health department Gabriel Thimote, represented an increase of only 33 fatalities over a 24-hour period. The disease 'is limited to a well-defined perimeter' in the northern region of Artibonite and part of the central plateau, Foreign Minister Marie-Michele Rey told reporters.

Speaking in Switzerland where she was attending a summit of French-speaking nations, Ms Rey said that for the time being 'those who are on the spot appear to be able to contain the situation.' But fears linger of a major health crisis should the outbreak infiltrate Port-au-Prince's squalid tent cities, where hundreds of thousands live in awful conditions after being displaced by January's earthquake.

Cholera is primarily passed on through contaminated water or food and could spread like wildfire through the unsanitary tent cities, where displaced families bathe outside, do laundry and share meals in close quarters.

Only five people in the capital have been diagnosed with cholera so far and the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said they had all travelled in from the epicenter of the outbreak in the Artibonite river area.

'These cases thus do not represent a spread of the epidemic because this is not a new location of infection,' the UN body said, adding that the development was, however, 'worrying.'

Contamination of the Artibonite river, an artery crossing Haiti's rural centre that thousands of people use for much of their daily activities, is believed to be the source of the epidemic.

Cholera cases tapering off