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Haitian Cholera Source Confirmed

Researchers pinpoint Nepalese soldiers as the source of last year’s deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CLAWED

As suspected, Nepalese soldiers traveling to Haiti to aide in the recovery efforts after the January 2010 earthquake are the source of the deadly cholera outbreak that killed more than 6,000 people and left some 300,000 seriously ill, according to a study published today (August 23) in mBio.

Paul Keim, a biology professor at Northern Arizona University and director of the Pathogen Genomics Division of the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and his colleagues used whole genome sequencing to compare 24 Nepalese samples of Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera, with 10 samples of the bacteria from Haiti. All the samples showed high sequence similarity, with some that “were almost identical,” the researchers report. The results confirm earlier suspicions that peacekeepers from Nepal brought the disease with them to Haiti when responding to the earthquake, which were based on the timing of the...

"The great similarity of Haitian cholera with Nepalese cholera is based upon the highest resolution DNA methods available, and point to a probable source of this devastating disease outbreak," said Keim, who has used similar genetic tracking methods to help identify the source of the 2001 anthrax letters, in a press release.

Keim and his colleagues hope that the findings could help avoid similar outbreaks in the future, when international aid is brought in to disaster areas. "This effort validates the power of advanced molecular tools in investigating outbreaks of this nature,” Lance Price, an associate professor at TGen and co-author of the new study, said in a press release. “The goal now should be finding ways to prevent such outbreaks, perhaps through screening prior to deployment.”

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