Researchers led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Technical University of Denmark have pinpointed the source of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that killed more than 6,000 people and sickened 300,000.
Using a technology called whole genome sequencing, which spells out the billions of chemical bases in DNA, researchers believe this provides the strongest evidence that Nepalese soldiers sent to assist Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, brought the gastrointestinal disease to the island.
The study appeared Tuesday, Aug. 23, in mBio, a new online-only, open-access journal published by the American Society of Microbiology in partnership with the American Academy of Microbiology.
According to Paul Keim, Regents Professor of biology at Northern Arizona University, who served as a senior molecular biologist in the study, "The great similarity of Haitian cholera with Nepalese cholera is based upon the highest resolution DNA methods available, and point to a probable source of this devastating disease outbreak."
Researchers confirmed the source of the outbreak by comparing the DNA of 24 cholera samples (the bacterium Vibrio cholera) from five different districts in Nepal with 10 samples of cholera from Haiti. All 24 samples from Nepal matched the samples from Haiti. Some of the samples, the report said, “were almost identical.”
The use of this technique could be used to prevent future outbreaks of this sort. According to Lance Price, an associate professor at TGen and co-author of the new study, using this technology could prevent outbreaks like that in Haiti by screening responders to a disaster prior to deployment. He goes on to say, the study “was not about placing blame, it’s about preventing such disasters in the future.”