New insights on the emergence of cholera in Latin America during 1991: the Peruvian experience.

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  • 1 Instituto de Medicina Tropical Alexander von Humboldt, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima.

After a century of absence, in late January 1991, Vibrio cholerae invaded the Western Hemisphere by way of Peru. Although a number of theories have been proposed, it is still not understood how that invasion took place. We reviewed the clinical records of persons attending hospital emergency departments in the major coastal cities of Peru from September through January of 1989/1990 and 1990/1991. We identified seven adults suffering from severe, watery diarrhea compatible with a clinical diagnosis of cholera during the four months preceding the cholera outbreak, but none during the previous year. The patients were scattered among five coastal cities along a 1,000 km coastline. We postulate that cholera vibrios, autochthonous to the aquatic environment, were present in multiple coastal locations, and resulted from environmental conditions that existed during an El Nino phenomenon. Once introduced into the coastal communities in concentrations large enough for human infection to occur, cholera spread by the well-known means of contaminated water and food.

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