Spring 2014

UF team demonstrates established reservoirs of cholera bacteria in Haitian waters

Water sampling for Vibrio cholerae in Haiti

Water sampling for Vibrio cholerae in Haiti

Since October 2010 more than 700,000 cases of cholera have been reported in Haiti with more than 8,000 deaths. Detection of the waterborne bacterium that causes cholera, toxigenic Vibrio cholerae, is key to predicting when and where cholera outbreaks will occur, but previous attempts to detect this microorganism in Haitian water sources have had limited success.

Now, University of Florida researchers led by Afsar Ali, Ph.D., report that they have detected Vibrio cholerae in several water samples taken at sites in the Gressier and Leogane areas of Haiti. Their findings suggest that cholera may now have established environmental reservoirs in Haiti, a key element in establishment of endemicity.

The UF team’s success comes from modification of testing techniques to allow for easy detection of the bacterium. The team’s findings appeared in the March issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Disease.

“While Vibrio cholerae is a natural component of aquatic reservoirs, it maintains a seasonal pattern, with increased temperature and rainfall promoting blooms of V. cholerae that can subsequently spillover to humans, causing cholera,” said Ali, a research associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health and a member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “Timely detection of toxigenic V. cholerae in aquatic environments is important because it can alert health officials to mobilize and implement cholera intervention strategies to stem a full-blown cholera epidemic.”

For reasons yet to be determined, isolating toxigenic V. cholerae from water sources has remained very challenging, Ali said.

“Generally tens of milliliters to tens of liters of water are processed to detect V. cholerae with a minimal success rate,” he said, adding that in previous large-scale studies performed in many cholera endemic countries, about five percent or less of water samples were found positive for V. cholerae, even during ongoing cholera outbreaks.

For the UF study, scientists collected 179 water samples from 15 sites over a one-year period. They detected V. cholerae in seven of the samples. That level of frequency is similar to reports from countries where cholera is endemic, such as Bangladesh, the researchers say.

The modified testing technique developed by the UF team includes enriching water samples in alkaline peptone water with subsequent incubation of the cultures at distinct temperatures and incubation times. Unlike previous studies, the UF team’s technique only requires 1.5 milliliters of water for the detection of the cholera pathogen.

“Better testing methods are central for cholera prediction and potential prevention,” Ali said.

2014 Florida International Summit

florida-international-summit-salem-025Health officials, non-governmental organization representatives and university faculty and students gathered Feb. 12 to discuss global health partnerships between Florida and Haiti at the 2014 Florida International Summit in Jacksonville, Fla. Guest speakers included Pamela White, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Dr. Jean Claude Cadet, dean of the State University of Haiti’s Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie, Dr. Jean Josue Pierre, president of the Adventist University of Haiti, and Ken Keen, retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who led the United States’ post-earthquake response in Haiti and an associate dean for leadership development at Emory University. University of Florida speakers included Dr. J. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute, Dr. Sarah McKune, director of Public Health Programs, Edsel Redden, associate for environmental and global health international development, and Dr. Michael G. Perri, dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions.

Summit topics included health and medical diplomacy in Haiti, policy concerns and economic impact, infrastructure and development of health facilities, health issues that impact South Florida, and diseases and vaccinations.

The 2014 Florida International Summit was hosted by the Florida Network for Global Studies, a consortium of Florida universities dedicated to strengthening expertise and interest in global studies, with sponsorship from units within the University of North Florida and the University of Florida, including the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions.

UF faculty members offer research skills building workshop

epihaitiUniversity of Florida researchers hosted a workshop on Dec. 4, 2013, for faculty members and physicians of the State University of Haiti’s Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie on developing a research project from start to finish. The workshop was designed to teach participants the components needed to adopt a community cohort and launch a longitudinal community-based study to understand social determinants and outcomes across three areas: addiction, mental health and violence. Using real community cohort examples, participants learned how to identify health concerns in the community, determine a community using maps, and enumerate households.

Workshop sessions were led by Michael G. Perri, Ph.D., dean of the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, and UF department of epidemiology faculty members Linda Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., chair and PHHP associate dean for research and planning, Maria Khan, Ph.D., an assistant professor, Catherine Striley, Ph.D., M.P.E., M.S.W., an assistant professor, and Krishna Vaddiparti, Ph.D., M.P.E., M.S.W., a research assistant professor.