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Life Arts

Haiti: Ground Truthing Cholera in Mirebalais

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Georgianne Nienaber     Permalink
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Nepalese UN Soldiers (out of uniform) Blocking the Way

My Haitian translator once again argued vehemently, demanded to know what right the Nepalese soldiers had to keep us off Haitian soil that was clearly not within their perimeter.

The students wanted to try crossing the river, but it was too deep for the Jeep and even though they students were piling stones for us to use as a bridge, the thought of what was in the water told me to say "no."

The first question that arises is why would the Nepalese refuse access on public property if they had nothing to hide? We asked for the test results they conducted with an independent lab in the Dominican Republic. The answer was "no," but the Nepalese we originally spoke with said the "tests were negative."

Why hide a negative result?

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The tests were allegedly conducted on an underground waste container and this has been reported by Jonathan Katz of the Associated Press, but not analyzed in mainstream media.

No one knows brand and type of method used to test the Nepalese septic tanks. There is a huge variation in the sensitivity of various tests. Was it one of many available rapid tests or a routine old-fashioned culture method? Rapid tests consistently detect cholera at between 2000 colony forming units (CFU) per milliliter (ml) to up to 20,000,000 CFU per ml (least sensitive test). A CFU means one live bacterium capable of reproduction.

In order to become ill from cholera, one needs to ingest between 1000 and 1,000,000 organisms (100-10,000 if ingested with food). Therefore, if one drinks one cup (500 ml) of contaminated water, along with food, that cup of water only needs 2 bacteria per ml to cause infection.

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That is .0000001 the concentration needed to be consistently detected by the least accurate rapid test. This is the worst-case scenario. More likely, one might ingest just 5 ml (one teaspoon) of contaminated water containing 200,000 CFU /ml, which is guaranteed to cause infection. Even this concentration is only 1 percent of the concentration needed to be consistently detected by the least sensitive rapid test.

The bottom line is that even if the most advanced rapid testing was done in the world's best laboratory, the negative results are meaningless. If a genetic PCR test was used, results might be more reliable.

Read more, here, here, and here.

The UN could clear thus up by releasing information regarding their testing. However, one would suspect that an independent lab in the Dominican Republic would not have the capability of doing PCR testing.

For the World Health organization to ignore this gap in information and say that it is not important to know where the epidemic began is political maneuvering, especially since the Haitian government and the CDC will need the cooperation of the UN to help contain this outbreak, if it can be contained.

Cholera is excreted in the feces and vomit. The contagion can be found in feces for up to 50 days, on glass for up to a month, on coins for a week, in soil or dust for up to 16 days, and on fingertips for 1 to 2 hours

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That is the bad news.

The good news is that the local television station in Mirebalais had footage of the October 29 demonstration that includes visuals of the reconfigured septic outlet. The footage is jerky, but you can clearly see clean stones, fresh razor wire, and an unidentifiable bluish-green muck in the river.

I added title frames and took the following clips from a 45 minute film to create this:

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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