However, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and Harvard Medical School say that the U.N. made its estimate based on the assumption that the disease would infect 2 percent to 4 percent of Haiti’s population of 10 million people, but failed to take into account existing disease trends or other major factors, such as where water was contaminated, how the disease is transmitted or human immunity to cholera.
“The epidemic is not likely to be short-term,” said UCSF medical resident Sanjay Basu, M.D. “It is going to be larger than predicted in terms of sheer numbers and will last far longer than the initial projections.”
According to the researchers, the U.N. estimates are critical because they are used to determine the allocation of resources.
Beyond estimating the spread of the disease, researchers also looked at ways in which public health authorities could curb the epidemic – namely, providing clean water, vaccinating part of the population and widely prescribing antibiotics, which could save thousands of lives.
Between October and December of last year, about 150,000 people in Haiti contracted cholera, and about 3,500 died. The new estimates suggest that if proper steps are not taken, 779,000 more will contract the disease and 11,100 will die in the next eight months.
The study was published in the journal Lancet.