PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI, May 4, CMC – A new study released by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that the cholera strain in Haiti is evolving, leading to fear that the disease may be taking deeper root in the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
The disease, which appeared two years ago, amid fears that it had been imported into the country from Nepal by UN peacekeeping soldiers, has been blamed for killing thousands of people since the first case was diagnosed in October 2010.
Cholera experts note that the new trend in Haiti is in keeping with developments in cholera epidemics around the world.
“This suggests that the ongoing epidemic in Haiti might be entering its next phase, since we see these shifts where cholera is endemic,” said Dr. Edward T. Ryan, an infectious disease specialist, who was not involved with the study.
The change also means it could be easier for Haitians to fall ill a second time to the new cholera version because they don’t have full immunity to it if they don’t take precautions such as washing their hands or chlorinating water.
In the study published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, co-authors Joan M. Brunkard and Deborah F. Talkington say researchers at the National Public Health Laboratory found that two isolates of the cholera strain collected on March 12 and 13 in Haiti’s Artibonite region differed from the Ogawa version found in Haiti when the disease was first discovered in the French country.
The CDC later confirmed that the isolates belonged to the Inaba serotype, the other major version of the cholera strain, according to the study, noting there is little or no difference in the severity or duration of the disease caused by the two versions, the report added.
Health officials have expressed concerns that there could be increased cases of Cholera here given the start of the rainy season and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warns that between 200,000 and 250,000 people could contract the disease this year.
Haiti currently has the highest number of cholera cases in the world. Health officials say the disease has sickened more than 534,000 people, or five per cent of the population, and killed 7,000 others since October 2010.
A campaign to vaccinate 100,000 people has already been launched and the US-based group AmeriCares said it is delivering more than 100,000 liters of intravenous solutions to cholera patients in Haiti.