Scientists: UN Soldiers Brought Deadly Superbug to Americas


By MATTHEW MOSK, BRIAN ROSS and RYM MOMTAZ | ABC News – Thu, Jan 12, 2012

Compelling new scientific evidence suggests United Nations peacekeepers have carried a virulent strain of cholera — a super bug — into the Western Hemisphere for the first time.

The vicious form of cholera has already killed 7,000 people in Haiti, where it surfaced in a remote village in October 2010. Leading researchers from Harvard Medical School and elsewhere told ABC News that, despite UN denials, there is now a mountain of evidence suggesting the strain originated in Nepal, and was carried to Haiti by Nepalese soldiers who came to Haiti to serve as UN peacekeepers after the earthquake that ravaged the country on Jan. 12, 2010 — two years ago today. Haiti had never seen a case of cholera until the arrival of the peacekeepers, who allegedly failed to maintain sanitary conditions at their base.

“What scares me is that the strain from South Asia has been recognized as more virulent, more capable of causing severe disease, and more transmissible,” said John Mekalanos, who chairs the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School. “These strains are nasty. So far there has been no secondary outbreak. But Haiti now represents a foothold for a particularly dangerous variety of this deadly disease.”

How cholera landed in Haiti has been a politically charged topic for more than a year now, with the United Nations repeatedly refusing to acknowledge any role in the outbreak despite mounting evidence that international peacekeepers were the most likely culprits. The UN has already faced hostility from Haitians who believe peacekeeping troops have abused local residents without consequence.

“The scientists say it can’t be determined for certainty where it came from,” Banbury said. “So we don’t know if it was the U.N. troops or not. That’s the bottom line.” – This surprised me since they can determine place of origin for other outbreaks like the Swine Flu outbreak a bit ago.

Scientists Trace Cholera Superbug to UN Peacekeepers

But ABC News has interviewed several top scientists involved in researching the origins of the cholera outbreak, and each expressed little doubt that the UN troop was responsible. The reason: A genetic analysis of the strain found in Haiti matches identically the one involved in an outbreak in Nepal in August and September of 2010; The Nepalese peacekeeping troops deployed for Haiti at precisely that time; Two weeks before the outbreak, Haitians had reported sanitary breakdowns at the Nepalese encampment set along a tributary to the Artibonite River, about 60 miles north of the capital Port Au Prince. The next month, the earliest cases of cholera surfaced in the same remote area, from Haitians who had been drinking and bathing in the river.

“It’s outrageous for the UN to try to deny responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, whose group has been monitoring relief efforts in Haiti. “Was it gross negligence on their part? This is one of the questions they won’t have to answer if they can sweep this whole thing under the rug.”

Cholera is a disease of the impoverished,” he said. “When the standards of living are already at the lowest levels, cholera is a killer of historic proportions. If it spreads to other parts of the world, in those kinds of settings, I fear there will be a very high rate of death.

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