UN-introduced cholera spreads to Mexico

According to Mexican health authorities, 171 cases of cholera had been confirmed as of Oct. 18 in Mexico City and states north and east of the capital; one person had died from the disease. The outbreak, first identified on Sept. 9, apparently involves the South Asian strain of the cholera bacterium responsible for an epidemic that started in Haiti in October 2010. Scientific studies indicate that poor sanitary conditions at a United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) base used by Nepalese troops caused the outbreak in Haiti, infecting at least 682,573 people as of Oct. 10 this year and causing 8,330 deaths and almost 380,000 hospitalizations.

Mexico is the first mainland country in the Americas to report an outbreak from the South Asian strain. The disease hit the Dominican Republic in November 2010 and had killed 458 people there and sickened 31,070 by Oct. 6 of this year. Cases first appeared in Cuba in 2012; Cuban authorities reported 678 cases and three deaths as of Aug. 23 this year. There have also been isolated cases in Chile, Venezuela, Italy, Germany and Holland, apparently affecting people returning from vacations in Cuba.

People would be vulnerable to infection by the disease in much of Latin America because of poor water supply systems, according to Marcos Espinal, director of the transmittable diseases department of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, OPS in Spanish). The Central American countries are a special concern, Espinal told the Spanish wire service EFE. The last cholera outbreak in Latin America, in 1991, caused 4,000 or more deaths in 16 countries, with 396,536 people infected, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Haitian and international organizations have unsuccessfully called on the United Nations (UN) to accept its responsibility for introducing the South Asian strain to the hemisphere. Several groups filed a class action suit against the UN in a US federal court on Oct. 9 on behalf of the victims in Haiti. (National Public Radio blog, Oct. 23; EFE, Oct. 26, via Terra Peru)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 27.