UF scientists: Vaccinating half of Haiti population would stop cholera outbreak
Published: Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 11:19 a.m.
Less than half of Haiti's population would have to be vaccinated against cholera to contain the epidemic, which started in 2010 and has killed thousands, according to University of Florida scientists at the forefront of efforts to contain further spread of the disease.
J. Glenn Morris Jr. of UF's Emerging Pathogen Institute published a paper Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, together with professor David Smith of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Dr. Zindoga Mukandavire, a former post-doc at EPI, which says that just 46 percent of the Haitian population would need to be vaccinated to eventually stop the disease there.
"What our model says is that you don't have to immunize everyone. You should target certain areas," Morris said.
The epidemic started in fall 2010, several months after the earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and displaced more than a million others. It is widely believed that United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal brought the infection to Haiti and that it spread through a faulty sewage system where they were staying.
UF has been working with the Haitian Health Ministry since shortly after the outbreak to stop it, Morris said. UF researchers developed a molecular fingerprinting technique to determine whether the disease was spreading person to person or through contaminated food and water.
The recently developed mathematical model might serve to settle or, at least, voice a compromise in an international debate over whether Haiti should vaccinate its population or clean up its sanitation systems to stave off the epidemic.
"The Ministry of Health has said that it will try to go in and immunize everybody, but that's hard to do in Haiti," Morris said, noting challenges such as cold storage of the vaccine and simply reaching people. Also, the vaccine that the WHO approved for use in Haiti, called Schancol, requires two doses, given two weeks apart.
As a counter to the vaccination argument, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cleaning up Haiti's water supply and sanitation system. Morris said those are huge undertakings to stop the spread of cholera.
"There are significant problems with embedding good sanitation and maintaining it. Many of the wells are no longer functioning."
Smith, another author of the recent study, said ridding Haiti of cholera would require both vaccination efforts and improving the country's water supply.
Smith said cholera basically had been absent in the Western hemisphere for 100 years before the outbreak in Haiti, and getting rid of it could be protective for the U.S. as well.
"It would be valuable for the U.S. to not have cholera in Haiti," he said, noting the country's proximity. "For example, if a Haitian had gone to New Orleans during Katrina, he or she could have spread it."
The disease is mainly spread through contaminated water and food. It causes severe diarrhea. Treatments include oral rehydration salts, intravenous fluids and antibiotics, but these are not effective in everyone.
"The thing about cholera is that it can dehydrate you so quickly so even healthy people can die," Smith said.
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or email@example.com.
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