Haitian cholera strain matches South Asia sample

Researchers have recently determined that the strain of cholera that has emerged in Haiti in recent weeks matches bacterial samples from the disease taken in South Asia, not Latin America.

The team of scientists from Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as others from the United States and Haiti, have concluded that the strain was most likely brought into the country from an infected human or a contaminated food source.

They do not believe that the outbreak was triggered by ocean currents or a climate-related event. The team’s full findings appeared online December 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings match with an earlier report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was based on limited molecular fingerprinting technology. The researchers caution that determining the actual source of the strain will require a sustained epidemiological investigation.

"Our data strongly suggest that the Haitian epidemic began with the introduction into Haiti of a cholera strain from a distant geographic source by human activity," Matthew Waldor, a doctor with the Harvard Medical School, said. "Some scientists believe that the strain arose from the local aquatic environment, but this hypothesis is not supported by our analysis, which clearly distinguishes the Haitian strains from those circulating in Latin America and the U.S. Gulf Coast."

Waldor and his colleagues are suggesting that the United States begin to stockpile the cholera vaccine in order to prevent outbreaks, such as the one in Haiti, from taking hold. Controlling the outbreak is vital. Beyond ending the current suffering, it could reduce the chance that the mingling of different strains could prevent a more virulent form of the disease from emerging.