Tuesday 28 March 2023

Deaths from COVID-19 in Costa Rica reach civilian deaths from Cholera

The cholera pandemic in 1856 has been the worst health crisis that has hit Costa Rica. At that time, 10% of the population died from this disease.

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QCOSTARICA – Officially, Costa Rica reached 8,000 deaths (8,037 as of Monday) related to COVID-19. This number already reaches the approximate number of deaths reported during the cholera pandemic that hit our country in 1856.

According to records and accounts of experts, cholera has been the worst health crisis that Costa Rica has faced in its modern history. Although there is still a debate about the number of deaths, since many academic documents indicate that the government did not collect all the deaths caused by the bacterium called Vibrio cholerae, they serve as a reference to know the devastating impact of the cholera pandemic on national soil.

Fernando García, a researcher at the Centro de Investigación en Enfermedades Tropicales de la Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) – Center for Research in Tropical Diseases of the University of Costa Rica – explains that at that time, in a matter of two months, just over 50,000 people were infected and just over 8,000 civilians died and another 1,000 involved in the armed conflict that was at that time.

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That represented the death of almost 10% of the Costa Rican population at that time, when one in 10 people died from cholera-related causes.

Archive of the National Museum of Costa Rica, image of the armed conflict in 1856

Currently, as of Monday, February 28, COVID-19 has infected 806,928 people in our country (around 16% of the population), and 8,037 have lost their lives. That is, this pandemic has been much less deadly.

“If at this moment 10% of the population in Costa Rica died, we would be talking about more than 500,000 people and that is extremely unlikely to happen,” Garcia said.


García explains that lethality is one of the main differences between both diseases due to the health system that existed then and the one that exists today.

The transmission of cholera bacteria was through the fecal-oral route and its consequences were gastrointestinal. However, at that time there was not much information on the prevention of contagion; even less some type of treatment or sanitary containment measures.

In the case of COVID-19, this has not been the case.

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“The differentiating fact is that we were able to control a pandemic with a vaccine that is developed in less than a year. Before, controlling a pandemic could take many years and even decades. It is possibly the most important historical event in human medicine and in public health,” Garcia said.

More than a century later, in 1991, cholera returned to Costa Rica. However, at that time the health system was much more robust. Only about 100 cases and one death were reported.

Although COVID was unknown, the knowledge gained from previous pandemics and the investment in medical infrastructure during much of the 20th century meant that the impact was not so devastating.

“Although it is true, in Costa Rica there have been a large number of cases and a significant number of deaths from coronavirus, without a doubt this is not the worst health crisis that the country has experienced in recent years,” Garcia added.

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This “controlled” scenario has not been replicated throughout the world, basically due to the inequality that exists in health services, treatments, prevention and medicines, among others.

“We have to be aware that we are going to continue living with infectious agents, we are going to have to deal with infectious diseases forever,” concluded the UCR researcher.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health reported 1,264 new cases, 1,037 on Sunday (the lowest for a single day since the peak of the omicron wave to hit the country) and 2,155 on Saturday, for a total of 4,456 for three days.

Though the number of deaths associated with continues high, Health 38 deaths in the last three days, a number that experts believe will drop significantly in the coming weeks.

On Monday, Health reported 899 people hospitalized, of which 121 are in Intensive Care Units (ICUs).

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