A new outbreak of cholera is killing hundreds in Haiti.  Scientists believe it is the same strain that UN troops brought into the country more than a decade ago.

A new outbreak of cholera is killing hundreds in Haiti. Scientists believe it is the same strain that UN troops brought into the country more than a decade ago.

A new outbreak of cholera is killing hundreds in Haiti.  Scientists believe it is the same strain that UN troops brought into the country more than a decade ago.

Patients lie on stretchers at the Diquini Cholera Treatment Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Patients lie on stretchers at the Diquini Cholera Treatment Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

  • Haiti is currently experiencing its first cholera outbreak in three years.

  • The country has reported 13,672 cases of the disease and 283 deaths since the beginning of October.

  • The current strain may be descended from the 2010 strain that was probably brought in by UN troops.

Less than a year after the Haitian government declared cholera eliminated from the country, the disease is re-infecting thousands of people. According to a World Health Organization report on December 13, the country has reported 13,672 cases and 283 deaths since the beginning of October.

The last cholera outbreak in Haiti began in 2010. Now, in a correspondence in the New England Journal of Medicine, experts say the cholera strain currently causing another outbreak in Haiti is related to the 2010 strain and is likely to be a descendant.

The current outbreak was first reported on October 2, according to the WHO, after three years with no reported cholera cases. Between October 2010 and February 2019, the country reported 820,000 cases and 9,792 deaths from cholera in a massive nationwide outbreak. In February 2022, the Haitian government declared that cholera had been eliminated from the country.

Cholera causes severe dehydration and is spread through dirty water

Cholera is spread when a person ingests water or food that is infected with a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae.. Symptoms include watery diarrhea and dehydration. Most cases are not serious, and the WHO said that if adequate treatments are available, less than 1% of people who get sick die. However, if left untreated, the disease can kill people very quickly.

Treatment includes rehydration of patients with a solution taken orally or pumped intravenously. Currently, there are three oral vaccines used by the WHO that can prevent cholera. The WHO maintains a stockpile of these vaccines, and the organization sent a shipment of about a million doses of one of these vaccines, called Euvichol, to Haiti on December 12. More cholera vaccines are expected to arrive in Haiti in the coming weeks.

UN troops caused the latest cholera epidemic in Haiti

The massive 2010 outbreak began after a deadly earthquake in January of that year that was estimated to have killed more than 300,000 people. United Nations troops from Nepal arrived in Haiti in early October of that year. Before going to Haiti, there was a cholera outbreak in Kathmandu, where the troops trained before deployment. On October 12, 2010, the first case of cholera was reported in Haiti, in a man who bathed and drank from a river two kilometers from where the troops had camped.

In 2011, a panel of UN experts determined that the outbreak had started in a UN camp, and while it did not explicitly say that Nepalese troops brought cholera to Haiti, it did say that cholera strains from Haiti and from Nepal were “a perfect match”. In 2016, the UN finally admitted that it had played a role in the epidemic, although it did not take legal responsibility.

Scientists still don’t know why this new cholera outbreak is happening

Scientists are still not sure how cholera has resurfaced in Haiti after three years with no reported cases.

In a recent New England Journal of Medicine correspondence, the authors proposed three hypothetical reasons why cholera may have re-emerged.

The first is that cholera cases may have persisted since 2019, but these cases went unnoticed, and now cases are rising again due to a lack of clean water and sanitation coupled with waning immunity in the population.

The second is that it may have remained present in environmental reservoirs such as rivers or estuaries, where the organism can survive outside of human hosts for several days at a time.

The third reason is that cholera may have spread to other Latin American countries during the 2010 outbreak, and that one of these countries may have reintroduced it to Haiti. However, the authors say this third option is unlikely, in part because other countries in the region have not reported recent cholera cases.

Whatever the cause of the new cases, the authors said, “these findings, together with the resurgence of cholera in various parts of the world despite the tools available to combat it, suggest that control and prevention efforts should be redoubled.” anger”.

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