News / Americas

Researchers Tracking Cholera to Understand Haiti Outbreak

A boy suffering cholera symptoms is carried by a relative to St. Catherine hospital in Cite Soleil  slum in Port-au-Prince, 18 Nov 2010
A boy suffering cholera symptoms is carried by a relative to St. Catherine hospital in Cite Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, 18 Nov 2010

U.S. medical researchers have identified the cholera strain responsible for the outbreak in Haiti, but they say it might be impossible to determine how the illness was introduced.

Haiti cholera outbreak

Since a massive earthquake hit Haiti in January, health experts have been on alert for the outbreak of serious illnesses in the Caribbean nation.  The quake forced tens of thousands of people to flee damaged homes and live in tents, with little access to clean water and proper sanitation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, deployed 250 health experts to Haiti earlier this year to help rebuild the government's public health services and watch for potential outbreaks of disease.

Jordan Tappero, who leads the CDC team in Haiti, says they quickly developed a list of major risks, such as diarrheal illness. "Cholera was on the list, even though I don't think people really thought cholera would be here because it hadn't been seen in centuries, if at all," he said.

Dr. Tappero says that in mid-October, Haiti's health ministry received the first news of people suffering from a cholera-like illness in the country's central Artibonite region.

"So when the first reports of illness suspicions for cholera arrived at the [health] ministry, within a few hours we had epidemiologists in the field collecting specimens.  Within 48 hours, the laboratory in Haiti had confirmation of a cholera outbreak," Tappero explained.

Haiti's cholera DNA type

Further testing was conducted in Haiti and at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia to perform what experts call a DNA fingerprint of the water-borne bacterium.  Earlier this month, officials confirmed that the illness was caused by a form of "vibrio cholerae" that is commonly found in South Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

Afsar Ali, a researcher at the University of Florida, has been traveling to Haiti to track the outbreak and help train health workers.  In August, he identified communities along Haiti's coast as being at high risk for a cholera outbreak.  Ali says brackish water, formed by fresh-water rivers dumping into the ocean, is a breeding ground for the bacterium.

"There is a mass tent very close to the river and ocean meeting site," I said this is the site where the cholera will happen, not the city. The city will come later. Those are the breeding grounds for cholera," Ali said.

Ali is familiar with the cholera strain found in Haiti because he researched it in his home country of Bangladesh, where cholera is endemic.

As he predicted, the outbreak in Haiti spread from rural areas to major cities like Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien.  Cases of people contracting the illness in Haiti and then traveling to the Dominican Republic and the United States also have been reported.

Researchers say they are at the start of a long process of trying to understand the Haitian outbreak and how it started.

Controling contamination

Dr. Jordan Tappero of the CDC says the original source of infection might have been contaminated food or water, or a person carrying the bacterium.  But, he says, the task of pinpointing the origin might be impossible.

"To really try to identify who was the individual that first suffered cholera or where that location was is nearly an impossible task, given the magnitude of the outbreak and the need for focusing energies to train health care providers to take care of cholera patients," Tappero said.

Researcher Afsar Ali says tracking the origin of the outbreak would require a broad environmental survey that could take years.  In the meantime, he says experts should continue tracking the cholera to understand how it spreads and why it might sicken some people while leaving others unaffected. Another concern, Ali says, is how the bacterium is changing.

"With this kind of evolution, many things could happen, Ali says, "A more deadly bug can emerge or a highly antibiotic-resistant bug can emerge."

Health experts say the cholera outbreak will be nearly impossible to control in Haiti until sanitation and living conditions are improved for hundreds of thousands of people who were affected by the earthquake.  They say people need to be educated in proper methods of boiling or treating water with chlorine, and the importance of hand washing.

You May Like

Video Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Attack on Colombian Police Kills 7

Defense ministry vows to 'maintain and intensify' operations against armed groups, drug traffickers following the attack
More

Chronically Hungry Numbers Decline

Three U.N. agencies have released the State of Food Security in the World report
More

UN: Enforced Disappearances Continue Unabated Globally

UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances says more than 43,000 cases from 88 countries still remain to be clarified
More

Hurricane Odile Weakens, Still a Threat to Mexico

Odile could drench Baja California with as much as 46 centimeters of rain by Friday
More

Powerful Hurricane Threatens Mexico's Baja California

US forecasters have downgraded Odile to strong Category 3 storm, with top sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour
More

Hard-hitting Films Tackle Homelessness at Toronto Festival

'Time Out of Mind,' 'Shelter,' and 'Heaven Knows What' all focus on characters struggling with homelessness, addiction on the streets of New York
More