Haiti's U.N.-Imported Cholera Has Infected Thousands of People in at Least Four Countries

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Dec. 9 2013 3:46 PM

Haiti's U.N.-Imported Cholera Has Infected Thousands of People in at Least Four Countries

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The South Asian strain of cholera most likely introduced to Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers in 2010 has infected more than 700,000 people and spread to three other countries. An epidemiological update issued by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization last week reported that in Haiti alone, there have been 692,098 infections with 8,470 deaths. More than 30,000 people were infected by the disease in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Cuba, which hadn’t seen a cholera outbreak in more than century, has reported nearly 700 cases.

The latest country impacted is Mexico, which began noticing cholera cases in September. There have been a total of 184 cases since then, with one death. The last time Latin America faced a major cholera outbreak was 22 years ago, when more than 10,000 people were killed. The good news for Mexico is that sanitation conditions have vastly improved since then, and the most recent update actually notes a decreases in the number of infected. Haiti has not been so lucky, with an increase in infections noticed over the last four weeks, coinciding with the country’s rainy season. According to NPR, there are also concerns among health workers that Cuba is underreporting the extent of its epidemic. Returning vacationers have also spread the disease from to Chile, Venezuela, Italy, Germany, and Holland, though none of these have turned into outbreaks.

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What is clear is that the disease has constituted a humanitarian catastrophe for Haiti as well as a significant cause for concern throughout the region. The outbreak is believed to have began when Nepalese peacekeeping troops contaminated a river next to their base through a faulty filtration system. The U.N. has not yet fully acknowledged responsibility for the outbreak, though a panel of independent investigators the body convened found “irrefutable molecular evidence” that the cholera came from Nepal.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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