Mon, October 25, 2010
World > Americas > Cholera outbreak in Haiti, Nigeria

Colwell's lecture correlates cholera and climate

2010-10-25 07:05:32 GMT2010-10-25 15:05:32 (Beijing Time)

Two men carry the coffin of Frist Fleurant, 10, who died of cholera, before his burial in Rossignol, Haiti, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. A spreading cholera outbreak in rural Haiti threatened to outpace aid groups as they stepped up efforts hoping to keep the disease from reaching the camps of earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince. Health officials said at least 250 people had died and there are over 3,000 sick.(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

A boy suffering from cholera sleeps while waiting for medical treatment at a local hospital in the Marchand Dessaline zone, about 36 km (22 miles) from the town of Saint Marc, October 22, 2010. (REUTERS/St-Felix Evens)

Climate, ocean wildlife and infectious diseases - three seemingly disparate topics - are inextricably linked, according to ongoing research at the intersection of these fields.

Rita Colwell, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and at the University of Maryland, gave the annual George S. Benton lecture on Tuesday.

The lectureship is held in honor of the former Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of the Homewood Divisions, lead scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and President of the American Meteorological Society.

Darryn Waugh, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, opened for Colwell. "She is very similar to George in science and scientific administration," he said. "The research that she has done is consistent with a lot of the initiatives we have going on campus."

Colwell has dedicated her career to researching global infectious diseases, but she is most recognized for her work with cholera. Although there are only a handful of reported cases annually in developed countries - the last major outbreak of the disease in the U.S. was in 1911 - the existence of the bacterium itself is widespread.

"Cholera doesn't really spread from country to country. Locally, these bacteria are present," Colwell said. "In [the geothermal wells of] Iceland . . . they have isolated Vibrio cholerae. And they have never found cholera in Iceland - ever."

But in the developing world, both the bacteria and the disease are very much present.

"That cholera is an ancient disease is true, but it is a contemporary disease as well," Colwell said. In Bangladesh, where Colwell has done much of her research, there are an estimated 50,000 cases annually.

But the disease is also preventable. Zimbabwe, for instance, which formerly had an exemplary record of cholera prevention, jumped from very low number of cases annually to approximately 110,000 in the period of only a year, due to political unrest and corruption that had caused significant deterioration of the country's infrastructure.


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