Thu, Jan 17, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Cuba struggles to contain second cholera outbreak

NEPALI-HAITIAN STRAIN:The outbreak began in a working-class area of Havana, where there were several cases of acute diarrhea reported on Jan. 6


Cuba’s second cholera outbreak in four months — after 130 years without the disease — has sickened more than 50 people and killed one in Havana, authorities and the family of the deceased said on Tuesday.

The latest outbreak was from the same cholera strain found to have been introduced in Haiti by Nepalese UN peacekeepers, unleashing an epidemic in 2010 that has killed about 7,900 people.

Miriam Rodrmguez, who lives in the Havana neighborhood most affected by the outbreak, said her son, Ubaldo Pino, a 46-year-old barber, succumbed to the disease on Jan. 6.

“He died of cholera and that is what is on his death certificate,” she said.

Authorities have not officially confirmed the cause of his death.

The Health Ministry said the outbreak was detected in Havana, a city of 2.2 million people, on Jan. 6 after a surge in cases of acute diarrhea. It said 51 cholera cases had been confirmed.

The Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine traced the disease back to the same strain of cholera that caused last year’s outbreak in the city of Manzanillo, 800km east of Havana in Granma Province.

That outbreak, which hit in July and was declared eradicated on Aug. 28, claimed the lives of three people and infected 417.

It was the first time cholera had been reported on the Caribbean island since 1882.

The cholera was “generated by a food vendor, an asymptomatic carrier of the disease, contracted earlier in other regions of the country,” the Health Ministry said.

The latest outbreak first appeared in a working-class district called Cerro in the center of Havana, between the Plaza of the Revolution and the city’s main baseball stadium.

Rumors of a cholera outbreak spread in recent days after doctors and nurses began going door to door in certain neighborhoods to distribute medicine.

“They came to all the houses and said: ‘Are you allergic to penicillin?’ And they gave us three Doxycycline pills to take, but wouldn’t tell us anything,” a woman said. “I asked them if it was cholera, and they laughed, but didn’t tell us anything.”

The Health Ministry called on the public to pay increased attention to hygiene, urging frequent hand washing, the drinking of chlorinated water and careful cleaning and cooking of food.

The outbreak comes at the height of the tourist season in Cuba, which runs from December to April, when planeloads of travelers descend on the island from Canada, Europe and Latin America.

Cuban doctors have gained experience treating the disease in Haiti, which suffered a cholera epidemic that originated in the Artibonite River valley near a base for UN peacekeepers from Nepal.

The outbreak in Haiti, which had never had a recorded case of cholera, has since spread to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the US.

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