Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Matthew was a devastating category four hurricane sustaining winds of upwards of 140 mph when it first swept through into the Southern peninsula of Haiti on October 3-4, 2016.

Hurricane Matthew was the strongest natural disaster to hit the country in a decade, completely destroying towns and villages. Food reserves and roughly 300 schools have been damaged.

Haiti Liberte, a local news source of Haiti, estimates nearly two feet of rain impacted the area during Hurricane Matthew.

Reuters estimates that the death toll in Haiti is currently at 1,000 and rising, causing the community to create mass graves for their deceased. The death toll is continuing to rise due to the cholera outbreak in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. Thousands are also displaced in the wreckage.

Cholera Rises in Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

According to CNN, Haiti has the highest rates of Cholera worldwide. An estimated 10,000 people have died from the epidemic since 2010 when soldiers from the U.N. accidentally brought the disease to the area in the aftermath of an earthquake. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2016 that 880 new cases each week arise out of Haiti.

With cholera projected to increase in the aftermath of Matthew, WHO is sending one million cholera vaccines to the area in hopes of preventing an outbreak of the waterborne disease.

Developmental Struggles to Haitian Economy

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and the Western hemisphere. The New York Times reported that, prior to the devastation left by Hurricane Matthew, Haiti was on the path of developing into a more prosperous country. Cell phone services were widely enabled in the community, and farmers and businesses were improving.

Forests, swamps and other forms of vegetation are now ruined. Roadways are blocked and destroyed and homes are no longer standing as they once were. Only the mounds of stones that were used as the foundation for homes still stand in Jérémie, Haiti.

Minister of commerce and industry in the Grand Anse department Marie Roselore Auborg of Jérémie stated, “Instead of going forward, we have to restart…This storm leveled all of the potentials we had to grow and reboot our economy.”

Widespread Famine

BBC reported from U.N. officials and the Haiti government that widespread famine will impact Haiti in the three to four months to come if the situation is not addressed properly and promptly. Haiti Interim president Jocelerme Privert states that “real famine” following the “apocalyptic destruction” made by Hurricane Matthew could prevail.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is proactively responding to the crisis by investing $120 million in the three months following the hurricane to aid in the restoration of Haitian infrastructure and provide medical and famine relief.

France and the U.S. have pledged to send aid to Haiti. The American Red Cross is providing $6.9 million to aid in relief efforts as well.

Haylee M. Gardner

Photo: Flickr

Alternatives to Antibiotics for Treatment of Cholera
There has been a recent surge in the number and severity of cholera cases in certain parts of the world including Haiti, India and South Sudan. In the face of an epidemic, the World Health Organization and its affiliates have mobilized their efforts to distribute efficient treatment and sanitation services to the populations affected by cholera.

The treatment of cholera, like any other bacterial disease, relies on a standard antibiotic therapy accompanied by a steady oral rehydration course for the patients. Cholera — caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae — causes severe diarrhea and nausea, and could be potentially fatal as the body gets severely dehydrated. In fact, as many as 142,000 deaths are caused annually as a consequence of cholera.

The disease has long been associated with poverty, with the scientific literature to support the correlation as well. The association arises from the causative agent of the disease: the bacteria causing symptoms of cholera thrives in unsanitary water, which is unfortunately widely used as drinking water in impoverished areas. Once they enter the human body, the bacteria have a very short incubation period, causing them to spread quickly and efficiently. The exceptionally virulent bacteria then release toxins, which cause the symptoms of cholera.

To treat these symptoms, antibiotics are typically administered to the patients in tandem with rehydration salts. The antibiotics that function to kill the bacteria are typically of the tetracycline family. The tetracycline-derived antibiotics, however, have become notorious for their rapid decline in clinical efficacy due to antibiotic resistance.

The mode of action of the tetracycline antibiotics is inhibition of protein biosynthesis in the target bacterium. This is accomplished by blocking the bacterial ribosomes, which are the site for protein synthesis. However, many bacteria, including strains of V. cholerae, have developed antibiotic-resistant genes, which efflux the antibiotics from the cell and render them useless.

This resistance to previously one of the most effective, safe and broad-spectrum antibiotics has spurred research into discovering viable alternatives. One of these alternatives is to manufacture a molecule that inhibits toxin production directly. This approach aims to stop the process of bacterial biosynthesis right where it begins: at genetic transcription.

The process of producing cholera toxin also begins with a transcribed gene, which is then translated to a protein toxin. The current objective is to isolate elements within the bacterial DNA that regulate this process, which are called promoters, as well as inhibitors for the promoter. The inhibitory elements can bind to the promoter which, in turn, would stop the transcription process for the specific gene altogether.

For the inhibition of the cholera toxin-producing gene, a class of molecules labeled toxT transcription inhibitors have been identified. These not only inhibit the process of toxin production but also down-regulate the production of colonization factors. The action of toxT, therefore, can stop the production of disease-causing toxins as well as prevent the bacteria from forming large colonies.

These studies depict a different yet successful possibility of approaching the antibiotic resistance issue. The efficient manufacturing and safety of small molecule inhibitors for mainstream pharmaceuticals remains a challenge for the future; however, the current research results are indicative of a positive outcome.

Atifah Safi

Sources: United Nations, NIH, American Society for Microbiology, WHO
Photo: Mother Earth Living

With the eyes of the world’s worries turned towards Africa’s Ebola crisis, many have not noticed that since 2010, cholera has infected over 730,000 people and killed over 9,000 Haitians.

Never declared an official state of emergency, the cholera pandemic in this island country has gone unnoticed by entire sectors.

The virus came to the country through the United Nations, when volunteers from Nepal practiced unsafe sewage disposal at a base in a rural area of the country. Groups and activists are currently fighting to have the United States take responsibility for bringing the pandemic into Haiti.

The outbreak began in September of 2010, ten months after the devastating earthquake in January of that year.

Nongovernmental organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and the United Nations worked toward stemming the spread, and aid poured in. Tolls were worst from 2010 to 2012, but after that, death tolls were being cut almost in half annually. With the launch of 2013’s “10 Year Plan for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti,” and 2014’s Total Sanitation Campaign, eradication of the disease seemed within reach.

However, in the first quarter of 2015, the number of cholera cases in the country tripled in comparison to the first quarter of 2014. The resurgence seems to have started in the slum of Martissant in September of 2014. Exhausted medical volunteers, who have not been paid in months, work tirelessly in Cholera Treatment Centers (CTCs), administering an oral rehydration solution and IV drips as patients lay in “cholera cots,” which have holes in the bottom with a bucket underneath to accommodate severe diarrhea experienced by cholera patients.

Efforts to fight the disease have been largely prevention-based, with an emphasis on sanitation through the use of various levels of disinfectant and the provision of chlorine to the population. However, to many Haitians, public outreach efforts seem not only redundant but unhelpful. Not surprisingly, being told to “wash your hands” and “keep yourself clean” by glossy pamphlets and foreign officials while your family members are dying does not offer much comfort. Citizens know what to do, but cholera still lingers.

At this point, a shift is being made towards the use of vaccinations, as one called Shanchol in particular gains favor for repeatedly demonstrating its effectiveness. For example:

  • In 2012, it was used to fight a cholera outbreak in Guinea and was found to provide 86% of the population protection early on.
  • According to a current study conducted in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it provided 58% protection to individuals who received it along with soap, chlorine and hand washing instructions (and 53% when administered independently.)
  • In its Calcutta trial, whose results were published in 2011, it was shown to give 65% protection.

When compared to other forms of cholera vaccination, it is impressive because it is supposed to last at least five years; it is two-dose regimen costs only $3.70 (and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is working to bring prices down even lower); it is ingested orally rather than injected, and it is able to enter the gut and prevent transmission.

The battle against the disease is ongoing, as is the legal fight between several Haitian organizations and individuals and U.N. representatives to hold the United Nations accountable for bringing “U.N. Cholera” to the country.

However, even with what some are calling the “fight for justice,” and the relative lack of awareness of the pandemic in light of the African Ebola crisis, there is hope for the cholera victims of Haiti in more ways than one.

With the rise of the Shanchol vaccine, a resurgence of cases that brought with it a resurgence of awareness, an impassioned population and the tireless volunteers or long-unpaid workers working to combat the disease, cholera is facing some formidable foes.

Em Dieckman

Sources: GizModo, Miami Herald, New York Times, The Atlantic
Photo: Flickr

Haiti Earthquake facts
Haiti was thoroughly unprepared when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit on January 12, 2010. The earthquake devastated the island, leaving millions homeless. Below are the 10 most important facts about the Haiti earthquake.


Top Haiti Earthquake Facts


1. Haiti Pre-Earthquake

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world. Haiti ranked 145 out of 169 countries in the UN Human Development Index. Over 70 percent of the population was living under the poverty line.

2. Human Toll

Death toll estimates vary anywhere from 220,000 to 316,000. Over one million people were initially displaced, and about 500,000 remain homeless today.

3. Damaged Infrastructure

Despite being built upon a major fault line, Haiti had no building codes and therefore no way to ensure buildings are safe from earthquakes. As a result, Haiti’s infrastructure was demolished. Nearly 300,000 homes were badly damaged or destroyed. The earthquake struck near the capital city of Port-au-Prince, destroying many of the most important government buildings, hospitals and roads.

4. Effect on Children

Over 4,000 schools were damaged or destroyed, amounting to about a quarter of the island’s schools.

5. Cholera

Unrelated to the earthquake and significantly exacerbating the problem, a cholera outbreak occurred in Haiti in October 2010. As of June 2013, 8,173 people have died from cholera in Haiti with 664,282 cases total.

6. Foreigners Caught in the Quake

Ninety-six UN peacekeepers died in the earthquake, along with 122 American citizens.

7. International Response

The international community proved to be remarkably empathetic towards the crisis in Haiti. From 2010 to 2012, international donors raised an eye-popping $6.43 billion for Haitian reconstruction. In addition, USAID contributed $450 million in aid to Haiti.

8. Reconstruction Effort

So far, aid organizations have rebuilt about 21,000 houses and made 100,000 temporary shelters. Fifty percent of the rubble has been removed and 650 schools have been repaired. In addition, the American Red Cross has provided 369,000 people with clean water, 2.4 million with health and hygiene education and three million with cholera treatment and prevention.

9. Obstacles to Reconstruction

The road to reconstruction has been bumpy. Issues with transparency and oversight have made it difficult to track where the reconstruction funds have gone. Seventy-five percent of all foreign aid has gone directly to NGOs that spent the money inefficiently and with few results. Experts say that it will be another 10 years before “serious results” can finally be seen.

10. The Future of Haiti

Only half of the money that international governments promised has been paid. In addition, half the money that American donors raised has yet to be spent, and the American Red Cross still has $150 million left to use on “long-term projects.”

Though many of these facts about the Haiti earthquake make the situation seem dismal, there is hope that the reconstruction effort can right this ship. Though it will be many years before Haiti is finally on calm seas again, long-term plans have been set in motion to ensure that Haitian reconstruction is going forward as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

– Sam Hillestad

Sources: CNN, DEC, Geography, Huffington Post, Miami Herald




The cholera crisis in South Sudan continues to worsen, as do fears of a probable outbreak in Syrian refugee camps in Iraq. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 2,400 people have been infected and 62 have been killed so far. As these numbers rise, the demand for a more comprehensive international response grows. This urgent situation polarizes aid providers into two camps: those advocating for widespread vaccination and those directing their focus toward sanitation.

Cholera is highly contagious and fast-acting. It spreads through bacteria-contaminated food and water, and is most common in places with poor water quality and sanitation. Many at-risk areas lack a widespread and comprehensive strategy for cholera prevention. The effectiveness of vaccines overshadows this issue, especially during time sensitive periods when outbreaks have already begun.

A study by The New England Journal of Medicine about a cholera outbreak in Guinea shows that two doses of a particular vaccine were able to protect people with 86 percent effectiveness.

Doctors Without Borders and the Guinean Ministry of Health were able to vaccinate 75 percent of the affected population, thereby containing the outbreak. Similar results were observed in a larger trial in Kolkata. Another benefit is that the vaccine is inexpensive – at approximately $3 per two doses – making it affordable to patients in vulnerable developing countries.

Successes like those seen in Guinea and Kolkata have encouraged the use of vaccination to control future cholera outbreaks and provide quick, inexpensive protection.

However, vaccines are not always suitable for settings with weak health systems. They require refrigeration – often up to the point of delivery – which, in some areas is impossible. Developing countries often must deal with unreliable electricity, transportation issues, high temperatures and deliveries to remote, rural  communities. Also, it is necessary to mix the vaccine with clean water – a scarce commodity in the poor areas where cholera is most likely to take hold.

Factors such as these have created debates over how best to allocate resources. Instead of spending them solely on vaccines, some argue that resources should be used to develop and strengthen basic water and sanitation infrastructure. Vaccinations, though effective, can only reach a percentage of the population, while proper sanitation benefits all.

Also, vaccinations are often implemented only after an outbreak has begun, rather than as a preventative measure. Water and sewage facilities play a major role in preventing cholera once they have been implemented. The WHO has endorsed the use of re-hydration solutions and antibiotics for the treatment of cholera, rather than advocating for vaccination alone.

Access to clean water and sanitary conditions are necessary to effectively control and eliminate cholera. It may be a challenge to focus on these basic needs when the research behind vaccines is so promising. Though providing better hygiene infrastructure for communities will not only help prevent diseases, but also set the foundation for growth in other areas such as health and development.

It is hopeful that both vaccination and sanitation will be used in tandem to provide a multifaceted, integrated approach to preventing and controlling cholera in the future.

– Mari LeGagnoux

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, New England Journal of Medicine
Photo: The Guardian


UNICEF and the Haitian government have combined forces to combat the cholera epidemic by providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in the rural areas of Haiti. This week they launched the National Sanitation Campaign, which will target 55 communities, 3.8 million people, 2,500 schools and 500 health centers.

Cholera has not been documented in Haiti for a century prior to its outbreak in 2010. Since then, the government has reported 703,000 suspected cases of cholera and 8,500 cholera-related deaths in Haiti.

In 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched an initiative for the elimination of cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic through prevention, treatment and education.

The UN’s efforts in fighting the epidemic have included establishing mobile teams for rapid health response, setting up 150 cholera treatment facilities and 700 water chlorination points and distributing buckets, water tanks and cholera kits to Haitian residents. International aid has contributed to reducing the toll of cholera: rates have declined 74 percent in the first five months of 2014 compared to the same time period last year and the fatality rate is below the World Health Organization’s one  percent goal.

Despite this progress, cholera still remains a global health emergency for the Haitian population, one that will only be resolved by keeping infected waste out of food and water. With lack of sanitation infrastructure and poor hygienic practices, cholera and other waterborne diseases which can lead to dehydration and death will remain a potential threat to Haitians, particularly those residing in rural communities.

According to UNICEF, less than one in two families have access to a safe, improved water source in rural areas of Haiti, compared with 77 percent in urban areas. In addition, only one in four families have access to functional toilets. Risks of cholera are increased by the environment and are even higher during the rainy season.

Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF representative in Haiti, claims that the partnership’s approach is to “address the root causes of the problem and offer sustainable solutions.” The National Sanitation Campaign involves the combination of community outreach and infrastructure building to provide working water points in at-risk communities and appropriate toilets for up to 90 percent of the population in areas where cholera is present. The current program aims to “stop the spread of cholera and cut the incidence of diarrhea by half within the next two years.”

Ki-moon called attention to the cholera epidemic in Haiti after departing on a “necessary pilgrimage” to Los Palmas and attending a local church service. He sought support for the $2.2 billion 10-year cholera elimination initiative of 2012, which struggled to raise an initial $400 million needed for the first two years. Ki-moon’s visit will hopefully reach donors who have previously been slow to respond to the campaign.

Some Haitians criticized Ki-moon’s visit, as the UN refused to accept responsibility for introducing the disease to Haiti. Past evidence suggests that Nepalese peacemakers stationed near a tributary of the Artibonite river had discharged raw sewage that carried a strain of cholera which sparked the outbreak. Now lawsuits are being filed demanding compensation for victims of the epidemic and affected families.

But UNICEF recognizes that it has a “moral duty” to end the world’s worst cholera epidemic. Major donors including the Canadian government and Japanese Agency for International Cooperation will facilitate the fulfillment of this goal. With new initiatives and a specific focus on sanitation systems and clean water, the National Sanitation Campaign aims to eradicate cholera from Haiti once and for all.

– Abby Bauer
Sources: UNICEF, United Nations News Centre, The Guardian, Global Research

In the 1800s, cholera emerged from its place of origin in India and ravaged the world. Millions have died in the seven cholera pandemics that have occurred since the first appearance of the disease. While it has been eradicated in some regions, others continue to suffer from recurring epidemics.

Cholera is rarely seen in industrialized countries due to proper sanitation systems. Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that up to 80 percent of cholera cases can be “successfully treated with oral rehydration salts.” However, the bacteria that causes cholera can easily “continue to thrive” in areas with poor sanitation and overcrowded housing. While the developed world may not face the threat of cholera, in recent years, developing nations have seen deadly outbreaks.

Cholera is an “acute diarrheal disease,” which, in severe cases, can cause “profuse watery diarrhea,” vomiting, and muscle cramps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that even more severe symptoms include “acute renal failure, severe electrolyte imbalances and coma.” The disease is potentially fatal just hours after developing symptoms.

The severity of cases often varies, says the WHO. Of those infected with the bacteria, 75 percent do not develop symptoms. While this may seem like a non-issue, the bacteria continue to exist in their fecal matter for up to two weeks. Without proper sewage sanitation, others may come in contact with the bacteria as well.

The remaining 25 percent of people infected do develop symptoms. However, 80 percent of those with symptoms only have mild or moderate ones. The other 20 percent of people experience serious, potentially deadly symptoms.

In 2008, the Vietnamese city of Hanoi experienced a cholera outbreak that produced upwards of 2,490 cases. The outbreak was attributed to sewage from septic tanks contaminating lakes where people sometimes wash food. Additionally, street food stalls and “dog meat” restaurants were closed down due to improper sanitation. Thirty lakes in Hanoi had to be sanitized due to the presence of cholera bacteria.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti, which began in 2010, has claimed 8,562 lives, according to the New York Times. Although relief efforts have reduced the number of cases, “clean drinking water and sanitation remain as scarce as when the epidemic began.” The number of cholera treatment centers has shrunk from 120 to 40, and the number of patients dying in treatment centers is rising. Doctors fear that the rainy season will cause the number of cases to skyrocket.

Medical News Today reports the ominous prediction that a cholera outbreak will strike Iraq. “Cholera is endemic in northern Iraq” already, says the report, and with the number of displaced people and refugees rising, the risk is even higher. Syrian refugee camps are overflowing with people, putting the water and sanitation standards at stake.

Two oral cholera vaccines exist, though the WHO has never recommended the vaccine “due to its low protective efficacy and the high occurrence of severe adverse reactions.” The best way to handle an outbreak, says the WHO, is to provide “prompt access to treatment, and to control the spread of the disease by providing safe water, proper sanitation and health education.”

These solutions, however, need to be applied in areas with the greatest need. The United Nations has come under fire for its response to the cholera outbreak in Haiti. The UN has failed to raise the amount of money necessary for vaccinations. While that would provide some immediate relief, Haiti also lacks the $2 billion necessary to construct safe water and sanitation services. Lasting relief is still in the distant future for the slowly recovering nation.

– Bridget Tobin

Sources: WHO 1, WHO 2, Medical News Today, IRIN, CDC, The New York Times
Photo: Medical News Today

June marked the beginning of the Central African Republic’s extremely rainy season. During this annual season, CAR experiences daily thunderous rainstorms that leave dire destruction in their wake. The heavy downpours destroy homes and tents, and the ubiquitous water pools into stagnant bodies of dirty and diseased water. The flooding in Central African Republic has caused contractions of cholera and infections, especially amongst those with wounds inflicted by local crime and violence.

The CAR is already plagued by chronic poverty and deadly crime. Additionally, there are an estimated 220,000 displaced people inhabiting Bangui alone in temporary “homes” that resemble eclectic forts rather than crucial shelter.

The flooding in Central African Republic is destroying the makeshift shelters the locals have made from any materials available, such as tarps, wood, and cloth. It penetrates their temporary roofs and douses them in the night, keeping them from meaningful sleep. UNICEF has rightfully referred to their situation as a ‘watery purgatory.’ The resultant stagnant water is also responsible for cultivating other deadly diseases such as malaria and typhoid, especially among young children who can be less weary of the dangers of playing near diseased, festering water pools. The situation also has people trekking through thick, deep mud.

Jacques Terrenoire, the Country Director for the Central African Republic at Mercy Corps. describes the dire circumstances: “Now that it has rained, people are just walking in the mud… There are often between five and ten people living under a shoddy shelter, and if there is a strong wind it could be torn away.”

Thankfully, Mercy Corps and UNICEF are both intervening in CAR and providing priceless, much needed aid through several means. UNICEF has, in conjunction with other groups, created a precautionary Cholera Treatment Center at the airport in Bangui. Thus, in the event of a cholera outbreak, officials will be prepared to treat the local population.

UNICEF is also distributing soap and water to those present, and they are building latrines throughout the country as well. Mercy Corps is practicing heavy relief in the CAR as well; the organization maintains teams throughout the country to teach displaced peoples about cleanliness and hygiene in addition to distributing clean water and clean hygiene materials such as soap and containers for water.

— Arielle Swett

Sources: MercyCorps, UNICEF Connect
Photo: Save the Children

In January of 2010 Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed over 100,000 people. There was an immediate outpouring of relief for the beleaguered island nation, with supplies and relief workers pouring in to help rebuild. Four years later there is still a lot of work to be done in the nation and the aid relief that came in 2010 is not available now. 

Immediately following the earthquake there were 1.5 million Haitians living in tent cities, and while that number is currently down to 146,000 people the country is hurting to relieve those displaced citizens. There is a sense that the United States and United Nations have failed the Haitian people considering the massive problems that still exist in the country and Haitians face on a daily basis.

Obviously one of the biggest issues facing post-earthquake Haiti was the shortage of safe housing with the million Haitians displaced. According to a Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) study, only 7,515 houses had been built in Haiti out of a planned 15,000. This points to a lack of money gone directly through the Haitian government and being used as efficiently as it could be.

The lack of safe housing has kept many in the refugee camps that were set up for temporary use after the earthquake, but the pressure put on those administering the camps has caused the Haitian government to make some drastic decisions. In December of 2013 at least 54,000 people had been removed from camps in Canaan, a suburb of the capital of Port-Au-Prince, according to a CEPR report. That was the largest example of a series of forced evictions from these camps in 2013. The UN Refugee Agency has not extended Internally Displaced Person (IDP) protections to those in Haiti’s camps, leaving them at the whim of the government.

Part of the problem with the still-standing IDP camps is the risk for spreading disease compacted by unsanitary conditions. Cholera outbreaks have been pandemic over the last few years with thousands falling victim to the disease though it had never been reported in the nation prior to the earthquake. Over 8,000 people have died of cholera in Haiti during that that time, with 65,000 cases being reported in 2013 alone.

Since cholera had never been an issue in Haiti prior to the earthquake, there was no infrastructure to deal with the disease. While agencies and aid groups from other nations have been brought in to deal with these problems as they arise, some Haitians feel that they have just made the cholera crisis worse. In October the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) filed a lawsuit against the United Nations claiming their practices inadvertently caused and exacerbated the epidemic. Over 5,000 Haitians were listed as plaintiffs in the suit.

There is still much work to be done in Haiti, a nation that was in dire straits even before the 2010 earthquake. There are clearly still many Haitians suffering in the aftermath of the quake, and it does not help that outside assistance has been at times hard to come by and misdirected. The situation in Haiti points to the importance of outside assistance and the need to sustain efforts well after an event like the earthquake happens. It goes to show that the events of today have far-reaching consequences and must be kept on aid agendas well after public shock has subsided.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: YouTube, Amnesty International, CEPR, Washington Post
Photo: The Washington Post

Infectious disease is the second most deadly health condition in the world (only behind heart disease) and claims over 16% of all lives lost annually. Nearly half of the World Health Organization’s top ten causes of disease in 2008 were infectious diseases; all of which disproportionately affect developing and low-income countries.

Take the pulse of this major player in global health with the below quick reference guide to five of the world’s most notorious infectious diseases.

Cholera (chol·er·a) – A strictly diarrheal illness caused by a bacterium that infects the intestinal tract and festers in any place contaminated with infected fecal matter. Transmission occurs through drinking water or eating food tinged with the bacterium, which is why cholera often affects regions lacking safe drinking water or proper treatment of sewage.

20% of infections progress to severe symptoms, which include watery diarrhea, leg cramps and vomiting. Cholera-induced dehydration can be life threatening, and may cause death within hours. Three to five million people are infected with cholera annually, causing between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – AIDS is a critical, incurable condition caused by the virus known as HIV. The virus damages T-cells, a critical component of the body’s immune response, and causes prolonged illness in its victims. HIV can be spread through contact with infected blood of another individual, or from mother-to-child during pregnancy and breast feeding. AIDS is now manageable with a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs, but still killed 1.7 million people in 2011.

Influenza (in·flu·en·za)– Contagious disease of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus, of which there are two main types: A and B. The flu causes fever, chills, muscle aches and occasional vomiting or diarrhea. Severity of the flu varies seasonally and depending on the infected individual. Extreme outbreaks have changed history: the 1918 pandemic, for example, affected 20-40% of the global population and killed 50 million people.

Malaria (ma·lar·i·a) – An infectious disease caused by a blood-borne parasite transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female mosquitoes. Malaria causes flu-like symptoms in its victims. Bouts of malaria are distinguished by cycles of sweating, chills and fever. In 2010, 219 million people came down with malaria; of those, 600,000 lost their lives. 91% of malaria deaths occur in African nations.

Tuberculosis (tu·ber·cu·lo·sis) – An infectious disease affecting the lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread in the droplets released after a cough or sneeze, thereby entering the respiratory tract and causing fatigue, cough, chills, fever and night sweats. Countries with high burdens of HIV see more frequent and more severe cases of TB, including infections of the kidneys, brain and spine. 8.6 million people were infected with TB in 2012. Of those, 1.3 million lost their lives.

Casey Ernstes

Sources: Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Disease Control Key Facts, Centers for Disease Control Cholera, Flu, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Tuberculosis, The World Health Organization, The World Health Organization Media Centre
Photo: CNN