Haiti’s cholera outbreak caused by weather?

Hey, United Nations! You might want to give these scientists a call.

I noticed this report earlier, by María Elena Hurtado for SciDev.net, in which she quotes two highly respected scientists, Dr. David Sack of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Rita Colwell at the University of Maryland, saying Haiti’s cholera epidemic is probably not due to bacteria-infested UN peacekeepers.

Sack and Colwell say Haiti’s cholera outbreak is likely due to current weather conditions and climate change.

The UN has been attacked (literally) because Haitians believe UN Nepalese peacekeepers were infected and, through improper sanitation, caused the contamination of local water supplies. Scientists with the CDC have identified the cholera bacteria in the outbreak as being a South Asian strain. As a result, riots have broken out, people have been killed and the UN is on the defensive.

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But Sack and Colwell believe the UN’s Nepalese team probably had nothing do with Haiti’s cholera.

David Sack is one of the world’s leading experts on cholera. Rita Colwell, former director of National Science Foundation, is an expert on the interplay between waterborne infectious diseases and the environment. What they think about this matters a great deal and may help quell some of the Haitian anger directed at the UN.

This is based on SciDev’s news report by Hurtado, not a published paper. I’ll see if I can find out more from Sack and Colwell on this.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.