October 27th, 2010
05:01 PM ET

Cholera cases rising around the world

Haiti's department of public health has recorded 4,147 confirmed cases and 292 deaths from cholera since the outbreak was reported last week, officials from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced Wednesday. The PAHO is watching the spread of the disease closely, for fear that cholera could cross the border into the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, the United Nations reported Nigeria's worst outbreak in recent years, with more than 1,500 dead.

But these two are  not the only nations seeing effects from the deadly illness. As of this month, four African nations - Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger - have reported more than 40,000 cases of cholera and more than 2,000 deaths.  And Pakistan, a country that is still suffering from the effects of horrific floods, also is reporting 100+ cases of cholera since last month.

Why so many outbreaks? Experts say it all depends on the conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are an estimated 3 to 5 million reported cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths due to cholera every year.

Cholera is caused by unsanitary conditions that pollute the water. In all of the outbreaks mentioned, unclean water is the suspected factor. There are two ways  cholera (Vibrio cholerae) usually gets into water or food: Through contaminated feces or naturally.

Cholera can be deadly within hours

In an epidemic, the source of the contamination usually is the feces of an infected person. Cholera can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.  In many situations, natural disasters, such as floods, typhoons and earthquakes, disrupt the water and sanitation systems and displace people, leading to eliminating in public and other unsanitary practices that pollute the water supply.

Aquatic sources such as brackish water and estuaries, often associated with Algae blooms, are more prone to developing this acute disease. And although cholera, technically, cannot be transmitted from person to person, if a family lives together in unsanitary conditions and someone in that group has cholera, the disease tends to spread more rapidly.

In Haiti, officials have not pinpointed the exact source of the outbreak. " (We) won't know until molecular analysis is done," says Dr. Jon Andrus, deputy director of PAHO. "That is an interesting question we may never have the answer to."   He continued, " (We're) trying our best to determine it, but we don't have a definite answer."

Globally, the number of cholera cases reported to WHO continues to rise. From 2004 to 2008, cases increased by 24 percent compared with the period from 2000 to 2004, according to the organization.

The WHO also noted the rise in cholera cases might be due to a new series of variant strains detected in several parts of Asia and Africa. Its data suggest that these strains cause more severe cholera with higher fatality rates. Experts also say the re-emergence of cholera is connected to the increasing numbers of populations across the globe living in unsanitary conditions.

Since the outbreak in Haiti, PAHO officials have stressed that people can fight the problem with healthier habits. "Something as simple as washing your hands can make a difference, " explains Andrus, "It sounds so easy, but it really can help."

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Francoise L.

    It's so sad. Haiti can't seem to get a break. I would encourage humanitarians who want to help our world, help Haiti.

    October 27, 2010 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. peanuts

    you know the drill ; ) blame it on global warming!!!!!!!!! problem solved

    October 27, 2010 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • andrewkam

      You joke, but weather and climate change does affect the rate of spreading diseases. When it floods, water systems are contaminated. When it's cold people retreat to the indoors. If one person has the flu, then it spreads like wildfire. Another thing to look at is the latitude of these outbreaks and what diseases thrive in those conditions. This has been happening since the dawn of life on Earth.

      October 31, 2010 at 01:25 | Report abuse |
  3. markybhoy

    If any of you who sent a text to The Clinton Foundation (you remember – text $10 to help Haiti) wonder how this could happen when all that money was raised. Look no further. Clinton's foundation swiped your cash, and the Haitians are reduced to living in squalor. The foundation raised over $23 million and has given out $4 million. Where is the rest of the aid? Why haven't you released the tax records for the foundation? I think it is because it takes a little time to launder that much cash.

    October 27, 2010 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rick

      I have been sending emails to Secr. Clinton on these issues.

      October 28, 2010 at 12:11 | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    Not once in that article have I seen global warming mentioned, it was about a Cholera outbreak. If you don't think the sheer of CO2 being released into the air isn't affecting the environment in some way you're ignorant. This flood wasn't caused by global warming so just keep your mouth shut about such issues k?

    October 27, 2010 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • markybhoy

      No sense of the sarcastic eh?

      October 27, 2010 at 20:13 | Report abuse |
    • Dog Cbd

      Without proper research, your readers won't be interested and you could lose credibility. I'm really shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my iphone. It is so rare to see a nice website like this one these days. It's really difficult to find high quality writing like yours these days.


      December 19, 2018 at 08:48 | Report abuse |
  5. mmi16

    Clean water and personal hygene go a long way to preventing disease.

    October 28, 2010 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rick

    A huge warehouse is full of supplies, yet the Pan Am manager Christian Morales has not been releasing supplies before the huge outbreak. CNN is now reporting on the mis management of the World Health Org. They are letting people die, with a warehouse full of supplies. Do not support this organization with funds.

    October 28, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Arms Ethics

      I never discovered any other post like yours. I only got about a few sentences through your article but I will take a look at the rest of the article when I get to school. I can tell this is probably an easy issue for most people. I am hooked on your points.


      December 23, 2018 at 11:03 | Report abuse |
  7. Rick

    PAHO officials have stressed that people can fight the problem with healthier habits Why aren't you supplying clean water and better health needs. That is your job. Do you have any brains. Who is running these organizations? They are holding back supplies from the people and letting them die. This article just shows how dumb and out of touch these officials are.

    October 28, 2010 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Tom

    It is disgusting to hear about the mismanagement of health supplies by World Health Organization in Haiti. I don't plan on ever donating funds to this organization. I would rather give to Christian organizations that can get the help where needed without all the red tape.

    October 31, 2010 at 08:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 20, 2020 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.