How cholera in Haiti began
January 9th, 2012
05:00 PM ET

How cholera in Haiti began

Two years after an earthquake shook Haiti, the small country grappled with the death, the destruction and the debris.

After the earthquake on January 12, another health crisis struck about 10 months later: cholera.

The bacterial disease brings about a painful death, as quickly as within two to three hours, because of the amount of fluid and electrolytes that are lost.  Symptoms are watery diarrhea, dehydration, nausea and vomiting.  

Cholera spreads through contaminated water.  While it has largely been eradicated in the West, it has been known to come back during war or natural disasters when people are forced to live in crowded places without proper sanitation and clean water.

So far, cholera has killed 7,000 people and infected 520,000 people, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

Medical workers continue to encounter about 200 new cases everyday, said Dr. Jon Andrus, deputy director of PAHO, which is part of the World Health Organization.

In an article published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine Monday, the authors identified who they believe to be the first to get cholera in Haiti after the earthquake.  An 28-year-old man with mental illness from the town of Mirebalais was suffering from hallucinations, disorganized thoughts and paranoia, according to the article written by Dr. Louise Ivers and Dr. David Walton from Harvard Medical School and Partners in Health.

The man was known to wander through town naked, and drank from and bathed in the in the Latem River. He fell ill with watery diarrhea and within a day of showing symptoms, the man died.  The two people who prepared the body for his funeral also developed watery diarrhea.

There is no lab method to confirm that this was the first patient to start the epidemic, wrote the authors. “This patient’s case is the first in the community’s collective memory to have had symptoms that are recognizable, in retrospect, to be those of cholera,” according to the study released Monday.

The patient had an underlying mental health condition that led him to drink from the river and this contributed to his illness, the authors concluded.

The cholera epidemic has continued to spread even until today. The infection spread to the neighboring Dominican Republic, and individual cases were exported to the United States, such as Boston and Miami.

By sequencing the genome of the cholera strain, researchers found that it was nearly identical to strains circulating in South Asia, according to a study published online in the New England Journal of Medicine last year.

An independent report later linked the outbreak to peacekeepers from Nepal.  According to the report, fecal matter from the U.N. camp where the Nepalese were based was improperly routed by a contractor and "this contamination initiated an explosive cholera outbreak downstream in the Artibonite River Delta and eventually throughout Haiti.”

The best way to prevent cholera is to get clean water and better sanitation.  Treatment for the disease is immediately necessary through rehydration, intravenous fluids, antibiotics and zinc supplements.

The authors wrote, “Such discussion is not intended as an attempt to attribute blame.  Rather, the case should cause reflection for global health practitioners on the importance of the increasing interconnectedness of globalization for public health.”

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. realist

    I AM not trying to offend anyone, however, I consider disease to be mother nature's idea of population control.

    January 9, 2012 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pen Name

      Pity, mother nature does not seem to have a solution for supratentorial cholera.

      January 10, 2012 at 10:39 | Report abuse |
  2. realist

    I AM not trying to offend anyone, however, I consider death by natural causes and disease to be mother nature's idea of population control.

    January 9, 2012 at 21:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • yes you

      I hope mother nature finds a solution for you.

      January 11, 2012 at 03:12 | Report abuse |
  3. Linda

    In response to the comment it's Mother Nature's way of population control: That is one of the most racist statements I've heard. Cholera is a disease like malaria, smallpox or any other highly contagious diseases. There have even been cases in the USA, but so minor the group affected from eating contaminated shellfish or drinking water.

    January 10, 2012 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jujubee

      How is that a racist comment?

      January 10, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
  4. Linda

    Sorry forgot the rest. It was such a small group affected it wasn't news worthy. Only those of us tracking CDC bulletins were aware of it.

    January 10, 2012 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Michelle St-Urbain

    Linda Life is a school , we learn everyday, therefore listen to jujubee the Cholera in Haiti is defenitely a Human disease control.
    before you reach a 100 years old, you will realize that we all have a price to pay in order to be part of this Planet. and the people
    of Haiti are still paying, but they are very resilient simply because they believe that the same way they just FINISH paying France
    for being free from their slavery era, One day things will look UP for them once more.

    January 10, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Relictus

    Lol, Haitians. The best thing that we could do for them is leave them alone. Let nature take its natural course.

    January 11, 2012 at 02:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Samuel

      Relictus...you call it "nature" when human actions were the direct cause, according to the report.I wonder if a situation arose where someone were to infect you with an AIDS contaminated needle if you would be content with the rest of the community, including the medical portion, taking your barbaric, even idiotic, approach of "let 'nature' take it's course." I see ignorance in this world has yet to cease being popular.

      January 11, 2012 at 03:14 | Report abuse |
  7. Melody

    Grow up people. Of course disease is natures way of cullng the weak. And throughout history those diseases have been spread by mankind. Get over it. Science fights them and either wins or the bugs get stronger. Thats just how it was, is, and will be

    January 11, 2012 at 03:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Felito

    God will judge us all. But for those who are ignorant and evil, I'll pray for you.

    January 11, 2012 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. BlogHAHA

    The story about that FICTIONAL MADMAN is Bull , they re trying to avoid making the UN pay , Haiti never seen this Sh...... Before and it is known that there was already an outbreak in Nepal and there is evidence of what was donre to that river and more. We Haitians if and when we want the UN out they ll be out , I personally think they should stay for a bit and it's a mixed feeling in Haiti concerning them some say yes some say no ,
    The UN is no Angel for sure
    If we want them out no Nation on earth can oppose , we'd just just do it .

    January 12, 2012 at 01:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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