Study suggests UN force brought cholera to Haiti

Evidence “strongly suggests” that a United Nations peacekeeping mission brought a cholera strain to Haiti that has killed thousands of people, a study by a team of epidemiologists and physicians says.

The study is the strongest argument yet that newly-arrived Nepalese peacekeepers at a base near the town of Mirebalais brought with them the cholera, which spread through the waterways of the Artibonite region.

The disease has killed more than 5,500 people and sickened more than 363,000 others since it was discovered in October 2010, according to the Haitian government.

“Our findings strongly suggest that contamination of the Artibonite (river) and 1 of its tributaries downstream from a military camp triggered the epidemic,” said the report in the July 2011 issue of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

In an email to Associate Press (AP), U.N. mission spokeswoman Sylvie Van Den Wildenberg didn’t comment on the findings of the journal article, referring only to a study released in May by a U.N.-appointed panel.

The article published in the CDC journal comes as health workers in Haiti wrestle with a spike in the number of cholera cases brought on by several weeks of rainfall. The aid group Oxfam said earlier this month that its workers were treating more than 300 new cases a day, more than three times what they saw when the disease peaked in the fall.

The CDC journal article comes as health workers in Haiti wrestle with a spike in the number of cholera cases brought on by several weeks of rainfall. Oxfam said earlier that its workers were treating more than 300 new cases a day, more than three times what they saw when the disease peaked in the fall of 2010.

The new study argues it is important for scientists to determine the origin of cholera outbreaks and how they spread in order to eliminate “accidentally imported disease.” Figuring out the source of a cholera epidemic would help health workers better treat and prevent cholera by minimizing the “distrust associated with the widespread suspicions of a cover-up of a deliberate importation of cholera.”

Read the full article
Piarroux, R. [et al.] (2011). Understanding the cholera epidemic, Haiti. Emerging infectious diseases ; vol. 17, no. 7 ; p. 1161-1167. DOI:10.3201/eid1707.110059

Source: Jonathan M. Katz, AP, 29 Jun 2011

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