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Battling the bad-news bugs
December 09, 2013, 05:00 AM The Post and Courier, Charleston,

Public health menaces originating in such disparate places as Asian slums and American hospitals are proving very difficult to eradicate even though they kill tens of thousands of victims a year.

Obamacare isn’t the only health care issue that needs attention.

The Haitian cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 9,000 and sickened 715,000 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic since it broke out in 2010 has now spread to Mexico, and it could possibly cross the border into the United States.

Evidence of the disease has also been found in Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands.

That epidemic has its origins in Bangladesh and was very likely transmitted to Haiti by a United Nations peacekeeper from Nepal billeted at a camp where sewage wastes spilled into streams used as water supply by Haitians. The U.N. is being sued in a U.S. federal court case seeking financial compensation for victims.

Cholera can spread rapidly in countries with poor sanitation. The last time it reached Mexico, in 1992, it was not eradicated until 2002. That time the epidemic was stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border. But the United States might not be so fortunate this time. Likening cholera to the plague, Ebola and pandemic influenza, Dr. Edward Ryan of Massachusetts General Hospital told National Public Radio, “It is one of the ones that tests the (public health) system.”

Unfortunately, a recently developed vaccine against cholera is not widely available.

Another threat comes from drug-resistant “superbugs,” bacteria that have evolved immunity from available antibiotics.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in September that more than 2 million Americans are infected by these bacteria every year and that they cause 23,000 deaths. It announced that three of these bugs were “particularly frightening,” and said that finding cures should be considered “urgent.”

Solutions must be found to these mounting menaces.

The administration and a divided Congress should be paying attention to the problem, and providing support to public health and research agencies, as needed.



Tags: cholera, public, health, mexico, epidemic, these,

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