Haiti's cholera 'from South Asia'

Test results show origin of the cholera strain but findings yet to confirm where the outbreak started, officials say.

     Authorities are struggling to prepare Haiti for the coming storm, as well as contain the outbreak [Reuters]

    The strain of cholera that has killed at least 337 people in Haiti originated in South Asia, according to US health officials.
     
    The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday that so-called DNA fingerprinting shows various samples of cholera taken from Haitian patients most closely resemble a strain from South Asia.

    The finding puts the spotlight on a UN base above a tributary to the Artibonite River that is home to soldiers from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.

    Health officials said that the findings do not prove anything but the revelations may re-enforce rumours that UN peacekeepers from Nepal carried the cholera to Haiti.

    Awaiting test results

    The UN said last week that it was taking "very seriously the allegations that sewage water coming from latrines at the back of the Nepalese military base" could be the source of the outbreak.

    The world body is awaiting separate test results taken from the base before it can determine if the UN officers brought the disease to the country.

    However, the main task now is to control the outbreak, not to look for the source of the bacteria, said Dr Jordan Tappero, lead epidemiologist at the CDC.

    "We realise that it's also important to understand how infectious agents move to new countries. However, we may never know the actual origin of this cholera strain," he said.

    More than 4,700 people have fallen sick with cholera, the first outbreak in the country in decades.

    Health officials fear that with many still living in camps without reliable access to clean water in the wake of the earthquake in January, the disease will continue to spread.

    Bracing for disaster

    Fears of the spread of the disease come as Haiti braces for another potential disaster in the form of a tropical storm known as Tomas heads, which is heading towards central Caribbean islands.

    It is currently forecast to reach hurricane strength before hitting the islands. If it does, the results could be devastating, Al Jazeera's Craig Mauro reported from the capital, Port-au-Prince.

    Authorities are rushing to ready the country for the storm, on top of struggling to contain the cholera outbreak and to maintain humanitarian assistance for the 1.3 million people who were left homeless by the earthquake.

    "United Nations officials were already stretched very thin," our correspondent said.

    "Now they will spend the next couple of days trying to reposition their resources and their personnel… to try to deal with what could be a third simultaneous humanitarian crisis unfolding here in Haiti."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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