The Consequences of Contaminated WaterPosted on by
Thank you to CDC’s Rick Gelting, Tom Handzel and Eric Mintz for their assistance in writing this story.
March 22 is World Water Day. CDC highlights the need for all people to have access to safe water, and to prevent sickness and death from waterborne diseases such as cholera
We all remember when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, killing 230,000 people and displacing over a million. Fewer people remember that roughly nine months after the earthquake, the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) confirmed cases of cholera for the first time in Haiti. Since the emergence of cholera, Haiti has reported about 805,000 suspected cases and nearly 9,500 deaths. In 2016 alone, Haiti reported 41,421 suspected cholera cases and 447 cholera deaths.
Cholera is a diarrheal illness caused by the bacteria called Vibrio cholerae. Most cholera cases happen when people drink water or eat food that contains feces of a cholera-infected person. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe, leading to sudden dehydration and shock. It can be deadly within hours if not appropriately treated with oral or intravenous (IV) rehydration. Today, March 22, is World Water Day, which was established by the United Nations to bring attention to the global water crisis. We observe World Water Day to highlight the need for all people to have access to safe water, and to prevent sickness and death from waterborne diseases such as cholera.
Cholera persists in Haiti primarily because many people lack access to clean water and proper sanitation. CDC continues to work with partners to improve access to safe water, such as increasing the number of homes who treat household water with chlorine. Despite progress, the cholera epidemic in Haiti—the largest documented cholera outbreak in recent history—remains ongoing. Cholera was prevalent in the U.S. in the 1800s for the same reasons it is prevalent now in Haiti. The U.S. eliminated cholera by constructing and improving water and sewage treatment systems. While Haiti continues to struggle with cholera, the combined efforts of the National Potable Water and Sanitation Directorate (DINEPA), MSPP, CDC, UNICEF, PAHO/WHO, USAID, and other organizations are strengthening the country’s capacity to combat cholera and other infectious diseases.
Without the combined efforts of countless partners, the cholera epidemic in Haiti could have claimed many more lives. Join us in observing World Water Day on March 22 as we continue to work towards making safe water and improved sanitation and hygiene accessible to all.
Additional information about CDC’s initiatives to improve global access to water and sanitation is available at:
- Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH)
- CDC Emergency Response and Recovery
- World Water Day 2017
- MMWR: World Water Day