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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US Coast Guard Rescues 33 Cubans at Sea

Because the overloaded boat did not make landfall, those rescued will be returned to Cuba
More

Search Underway at New Site in Mexico Missing Students Case

This week marked one month since the students went missing after clashing with police in mysterious circumstances
More

Public Transport in Latin America, Asia Most Dangerous for Women

Thousands of women and gender experts were questioned to create the listing
More

Kerry Lays Wreath for Slain Canadian Soldier

World has been witness to Canada's strength in face of tragedy, he says
More

Crowds Gather for Funeral of Canadian Soldier Killed in Ottawa

Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, was shot dead in last week near Canada's parliament building in attack allegedly carried out by convert to Islam
More

Mexico Makes New Arrests in Student Disappearances

Attorney General says four more gang members from the Guerreros Unidos cartel who 'organized the disappearance' of the teacher trainees are in custody
More