Virulent strain of cholera in Haiti came from Asia, report finds

Haiti is battling a deadly cholera epidemic that a new report says is spread by a virulent Asian strain of the disease. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)
By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times:ATLANTA — A particularly virulent strain of cholera in Haiti has the potential to become a problem in Latin America, scientists said in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine published Thursday.

The cholera strain identified in Haiti, a hybrid, has been previously detected in South Asia and is so strong it displaced an older strain in that region, the report said. The strain now in Haiti causes more severe dehydrating disease, increases production of infectious stools and has increased antibiotic resistance, according to the report.

The scientists expressed concern that the hybrid strain in Haiti, called “South Asian variant Vibrio cholerae El Tor,” could displace the strain currently circulating in Latin America. Latin America endured a cholera epidemic that began in Peru in 1991 and lasted nearly a decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is likely that the Caribbean ecosystem may now be host to a set of genes … that were previously absent from this region,” the published report said. “Clearly, the provision of adequate sanitation and clean water is essential for preventing the further spread of the Haitian cholera epidemic.

“Vaccination would also help to prevent the spread of disease, although cholera vaccines are in short supply,” the report concluded.

The report was written by 16 scientists affiliated with Pacific Biosciences, a laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif.; Massachusetts General Hospital; Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; Harvard Medical School; the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and a research foundation in Haiti. The report was released a day after the CDC said the Haiti outbreak has killed more than 2,000 and sickened 91,000 people, and has spread to all regions of the nation and its neighbor to the east, the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that a contingent of United Nations peacekeepers was the likely source of the cholera outbreak, citing a report written by a scientist who was sent by the French government to assist Haitian health officials. According to the news agency, soldiers who arrived at a base in Haiti soon before the cholera outbreak came from Nepal. The first Haitian cases of cholera were from villagers who lived near the U.N. base, who use a river as a source of drinking water, the AP story said.


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