Cholera may have arrived on island 'years ago' from Asia

Medical briefing

The source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti is unlikely to be established with certainty, a leading expert on the disease said yesterday.

The bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which causes watery diarrhoea, vomiting and has so far killed 900 people in the country's refugee camps, may have lain dormant for years or been introduced from the United States, said Sandy Cairncross, a professor of environmental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Nepalese peacekeepers have been blamed for the outbreak after the disease was identified as a South-east Asian strain. Cholera is endemic in Nepal and the first cases were reported in Mirebalais, 60km north-east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, near a military camp housing Nepalese soldiers.

Other cases occurred further down the Artibonite River and it was reported that sewage pipes led from the camp to a nearby stream, which emptied into the Artibonite. But tests on water samples from the stream found no bacteria. Professor Cairncross said South-east Asia was the natural home of cholera, where the disease had always been endemic.

"Most known strains come from South-east Asia," he said. "But they could have got to Haiti some years ago or they could have got to the US and only been transmitted to Haiti recently."

Cholera is excreted in faeces and transmitted by contaminated water, food or hands. For a century after the bacterium was discovered by the German Physician Robert Koch in 1883 it was thought the only stable place it could be found was the human gut.

But after an outbreak during the 1980s in the US, the cholera bacterium was discovered in salty coastal lagoons in Chesapeake Bay, in Australian creeks and in the Kent marshes in England. Scientists found the bacterium could lie dormant, living in conjunction with blue-green algae, for years.

"Its normal habitat is surface water," Professor Cairncross said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral