Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: A cholera outbreak that has killed more than 300 people in Haiti matches strains commonly found in South Asia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
The finding intensifies scrutiny on a U.N. base above a tributary to the Artibonite River that is home to a contingent of recently arrived peacekeepers from Nepal, a South Asian country where cholera is endemic and which saw outbreaks this summer.
It is also a significant step toward answering one of the most important questions about the burgeoning epidemic: How did cholera, a disease never confirmed to have existed in Haiti, suddenly erupt in the vulnerable country`s rural center?
Speculation among Haitians has increasingly focused on the U.N. base. The outbreak began among people who live downstream from where the tributary meets the Artibonite and drank from the river. On Friday, hundreds of protesters marched from the nearby city of Mirebalais to demand the Nepalese peacekeepers be sent home.
The Associated Press found questionable sanitation in an unannounced visit to the base last week and an exclusive tour of the facility given by peacekeepers Sunday. Despite earlier statements that sanitation at the base was up to international standards, on Monday the mission acknowledged there are santiation problems and said they are being solved.
Following the CDC report, U.N. mission spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said U.N. personnel took environmental samples around the base Oct. 24, including from septic tanks, and tests by a private laboratory found no cholera.
He added that the mission "welcomes the scientific contribution of the national public health laboratory in Haiti and the CDC to the understanding of the current cholera outbreak in Haiti."
CDC researchers identified the strain by analyzing DNA patterns that can be compared with those from other regions of the world using a method of "DNA fingerprinting" called pulsed field gel electrophoresis. The samples were taken from cholera patients, and the results were released to the press Monday after first being given to Haitian health authorities.
South Asia refers to the area around the Indian subcontinent — India, Pakistan and other countries including Nepal, Dr. Christopher Braden at the CDC said.