Water test could enable post-earthquake cholera detection

A new technique developed by University of Central Florida (UCF) scientists could allow earthquake-relief workers to test water sources that could be contaminated with the cholera toxin.

In the test, the sugar dextran is coated onto iron-oxide nanoparticles and then added to a sample of water. If the cholera toxin is present, the toxin binds to the dextran because its chemical structure is similar to the cholera toxin receptor (GM1) found on the surface of cells in a victim’s gut.

The researchers believe that the technique may be less expensive than those currently available and could provide results more quickly, enabling workers to restrict access to contaminated sources and limit the spread of the disease.

’It’s really quite amazing,’ said UCF assistant professor J Manuel Perez, the lead researcher on the project. ’It means we have a quicker diagnostic tool using a simple and relatively cheap sugar-nanoparticle combination.’

More studies are needed to prove the adaptability of the technique, but its impact could be huge. In countries with poor sanitation, outbreaks caused by drinking contaminated water often prove fatal. Deadly toxins also can result from bioterrorism or food contamination.

There are an estimated three to five million cholera cases and 100,000 to 120,000 deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A cholera outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people in Haiti since the earthquake and WHO warned earlier in January that the outbreak has not yet reached its peak.