On Friday, officials confirmed 142 dead in Haiti from an outbreak of cholera, a diarrheal, dehydrating disease. The outbreak is officially an "epidemic," according to Dr. Michel Thieren of Pan American Health Organization. The disease is spread through contaminated water. According to reports, most of the cholera patients live near the Artibonite River, and have ingested water from it.
But while humanitarian groups rush medical supplies, doctors and clean water to the Artibonite region -- just north of Port-au-Prince -- health experts are debating how to best contain the disease, and what triggered the outbreak. It's unclear whether a breakdown in public health infrastructure related to the January 12 earthquake was the catalyst: the Artibonite region was relatively unaffected by the quake, although thousands of refugees currently live there.
According to Dr. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and chair of the George Washington University Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine, the question of what caused the endemic can't be answered until experts produce the molecular typing of the bacteria. Molecular typing is a genetic technique used by scientists to map the genome of a particular bacteria, and thus learn more about it.