HAITI has been hit by a particularly “virulent” strain of cholera that could stay in the country for years, even if health measures will now limit its human toll, US officials said.
Not only do Haitians have little or no immunity to fight a disease that has been absent from Haiti for at least 50 years, “this strain of cholera seems to be more virulent than normal strains,” said US official Thomas Adams.
Mr Adams, the Special US Coordinator for Haiti, also said that following January’s devastating earthquake the international community knew that Haitians were susceptible to waterborne diseases such as cholera. However, they expected the disease was more likely to break out in overcrowded Port-au-Prince, which was flattened by the quake, rather than in outlying areas.
“The disease fooled us,” Mr Adams said.
Manoj Menon, the Centre for Disease Control liaison for the US cholera response, said health officials could not rule out rumours that poor sanitation at a UN peacekeeping compound caused the outbreak.
“We will likely never know where this came from,” he said, pointing out the difficulties in pinpointing the source of the disease.
With more than 1100 Haitians now dead and more than 18,000 taken ill, it is difficult to know how many more people will die from or contract the disease, Dr Menon added. But experience shows that cholera has an increased chance of spreading in countries where infant mortality is high, such as in Haiti, he added.
“So we expect using that model that Haiti is going to have sustained transmission for a number of years,” Dr Menon said.
“We hope that given the current preventive and treatment measures we have … the biggest burden will be early on in the epidemic, and that’s what’s we’re seeing now.
“But we expect that cases will continue and the organism will be present in the environment for a number of years,” he added.