Cholera Cuba: Outbreak Among Tourists Prompts US Warning

Thursday, 22 Aug 2013 09:43 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A cholera outbreak among tourists visiting Cuba in recent weeks has led the United States to issue a warning to travelers visiting the Communist island nation.

The advisory recommended that American visitors to Cuba should avoid untreated water, street food and under- or uncooked dishes such as ceviche, the Associated Press reported.

"We urge you to follow public health recommendations and guidelines, such as safe food and water precautions and frequent hand washing to help prevent cholera infection," the diplomatic mission said in a statement published online Tuesday.

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Most U.S. citizens are prevented from vacationing on the island nation due to the 51-year-old embargo against Cuba; however, hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans, and an increasing number of others, are able to legally visit Cuba, which is located just 90 miles off the Floridian coast.

The Pan American Health Organization has reported five confirmed cases of cholera among tourists to Cuba in July and August. The vacationers included one Italian, two Venezuelans and two Chileans tourists.

At least three of the tourists sickened by cholera visited Havana, the AP notes.

Last July, a rare outbreak of cholera was reported in Cuba.

The Geneva, Switzerland based World Health Organization (WHO), which has an office in Havana, reported some 53 cases of cholera and three deaths.

The statistics, which were provided to the WHO by Cuban officials, was followed by a statement from the government that by July 3, the disease had been brought under control after it was discovered in the western province of Granma.

Then in January, a second cholera outbreak was reported in Cuba's 2.2 million person capital city of Havana.

According to a statement released by the Cuban government, the outbreak earlier this year was first reported on Jan. 6 and led to 51 confirmed cases before entering a "phase of extinction." No deaths were reported.

It is unclear whether the current cholera outbreak among tourists is isolated to travelers or part of a more significant outbreak being experienced among Cuban residents in Havana.

"If there were to be cholera, the Health Ministry has an action plan with a super-strict system of isolating (infected) people," unconcerned Havana resident Carlos Rodriguez told the AP. "So far I haven’t had any news about there being cholera."

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In the past, diplomats on the island have expressed dismay at what they called Cuba’s lack of transparency on cholera statistics, the AP notes.

If the cholera outbreak were to impact tourism in Cuba, it would be a major blow to the economy, which took in approximately $2.5 billion in 2011 from foreign tourists.

A waterborne disease, cholera can kill its victims quickly, via severe dehydration, however if detected in time it is treatable.

Related stories:

Cuba Battling Havana Cholera Outbreak

Cuba Silent as Doctors Fight Rare Cholera Outbreak on Island

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