Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

To combat Haitian cholera epidemic, researchers look to vaccines and early detection techniques

v_cholerae.jpgMore than a year after a catastrophic earthquake struck Port-au-Prince and killed an estimated 230,000 Haitians, public health officials are still grappling with the fallout from a cholera outbreak that has so far killed more than 3,000 people and infected nearly 150,000 others. To strengthen the response on the ground, the World Bank yesterday awarded $15 million to aid efforts in identifying and responding to future cases of the disease.

But global efforts are not stopping there. To prevent future cholera outbreaks, the World Health Organization is gearing up to implement a pilot cholera vaccination program to prevent the bacterial infection before it happens. However, as Nature reports, the effort is being hampered by vaccine supplies that are limited and that have never before been tested in disease outbreaks as large as the current epidemic.

With cases of cholera continuing to rise, methods are urgently needed to quickly identify contaminated water sources to prevent the spread of the disease. Reporting yesterday in the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry, a team from the University of Central Florida developed a method that could potentially do just that. The method, which uses the sugar dextran to detect the cholera toxin, the substance responsible for the disease, is comparable in sensitivity to existing methods but is much less expensive. What’s more, the authors report, the test could easily be adapted under field conditions such as those found in Haiti.

Death rates of cholera victims continue to drop to less than 1% in Port-au-Prince. But a news story out today from Nature cautions that many more people continue to be afflicted in rural areas of the country. Meanwhile, a team of scientists from the United Nations continues to search for the source of the cholera outbreak, Reuters reports.

Image of Vibrio cholerae from CDC


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