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Experts: Did UN troops infect Haiti?
Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it is clear that the disease was imported to Haiti but that it is still not clear by whom or how. She said the epidemic will contain lessons for humanitarian relief work and disaster relief around the world.
"It has to be either peacekeepers or humanitarian relief workers, that's the bottom line," she said.
Mekalanos said researchers might be more aggressive in finding the source of the infection if the case was less sensitive.
"I think that it is an attempt to maybe do the politically right thing and leave some agencies a way out of this embarrassment. But they should understand that ... there is a bigger picture here," he said. "It's a threat to the whole region."
He also cast doubt on U.N. military tests released this week that showed no sign of cholera. The tests were taken from leaking water and an underground waste container at the base a week after the epidemic was first noted and processed at a lab in the neighboring Dominican Republic, U.N. spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese said.
Mekalanos said that it is extremely difficult to accurately isolate cholera in environmental samples and that false negatives are common.
The Nepalese troops were not tested for cholera before their deployment if they did not present symptoms. But health officials say 75 percent of people infected with cholera bacteria do not show symptoms and can still pass on the disease for weeks.
A spokesman for the World Health Organization said finding the cause of the outbreak is "not important right now."
"Right now, there is no active investigation. I can't say one way or another (if there will be). It is not something we are thinking about at the moment. What we are thinking about is the public health response in Haiti," said spokesman Gregory Hartl.
The Harvard experts said more conclusive evidence would be available following closer examinations of the genetic material in the strain.
CDC spokeswoman Kathryn Harben said in an e-mail that the center will make the full genomic DNA sequence available when it is confirmed.
"At some point in the future, when many different analyses of the strain are complete, it may be possible to identify the origin of the strain causing the outbreak in Haiti," she said.
Farmer, who co-founded the medical organization Partners in Health that is a leading responder in the epidemic, said there is no reason to wait.
"The idea that we'd never know is not very likely," he said. "There's got to be a way to know the truth without pointing fingers."
Associated Press reporter Colleen Barry in Geneva contributed to this article.