December 10, 2010

South Asia Possible Source Of Haitian Cholera Outbreak

A team of US and Haitian researchers have discovered that the cholera epidemic currently plaguing the Latin American nation likely originated from South Asia, according to a new study published online Thursday at the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) website.

The study--which was led by Dr. Stephen Calderwood, the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Morton N. Swartz, Academy Professor of Medicine (Microbiology and Molecular Genetics) at Harvard Medical School (HMS)--found that "the cholera bacterial strain introduced into Haiti probably came from an infected human, contaminated food or other item from outside of Latin America," according to a December 9 HMS press release.

Furthermore, according to the press release, Calderwood, Swartz, and colleagues found that it was "highly unlikely"¦ that the outbreak was triggered by ocean currents or other climate-related events," and that the discovery could be that "control measures such as rapid screening for cholera infection and vaccination might limit the risk of cholera epidemics in the future if coordinated on a global level."

Joining Calderwood and Swarts on the study were Matthew Waldor, a Howard Hughes investigator and the Edward H. Kass Professor of Medicine at HMS and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston; John Mekalanos, the chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at HMS; and colleagues at Pacific Biosciences in Menlo Park, California, and the Fondation pour le D©veloppement des Universit©s et de la Recherche en Haiti in Port-au-Prince.

According to the HMS press release, the disease was first observed shortly after the arrival of South Asian peacekeepers from the United Nations (UN), and was originally reported in the same vicinity, leading to speculation that they could have brought the illness with them. However, the researchers pointed out that the actual source of the cholera strain has not yet been determined, and that further epidemiological investigation will be required.

"Now armed with a more complete characterization of this pathogen, the scientific community is empowered with information that can be used to inform public health policy decisions such as the appropriate use of vaccines to quell this epidemic," Dr. Eric Schadt, Chief Scientific Officer of Pacific Biosciences and co-author of the paper, said in a statement Thursday. "The ability to quickly and easily perform real-time monitoring of pathogens also opens the door to using this technology as a routine surveillance method, for public health protection in addition to pandemic prevention and response."


On the Net: