Cholera cases in East Africa increase by roughly 50,000 during El Niño, the cyclical weather occurrence that profoundly changes global weather patterns, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
The findings, researchers say, could help health ministries anticipate future cholera surges during El Niño years and save lives.
The researchers, reporting April 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used sophisticated mapping to pinpoint the location of clusters of cholera cases before, during and after El Niño years. Cholera is an infectious and often fatal bacterial disease, typically contracted from infected water supplies and causing severe vomiting and diarrhea. Africa has the most cholera deaths in the world.
“We usually know when El Niño is coming six to 12 months before it occurs,” says study leader Dr. Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “Knowing there is elevated cholera risk in a particular region can help reduce the number of deaths that result. If you have cholera treatment centers available, fast, supportive care can reduce the fatality rate from cholera from as high as 30 percent to next to nothing.”