HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's Public Health Ministry on Tuesday acknowledged 51 new cases of cholera in the capital amid growing concerns about the illness' spread and disappointment in the diplomatic community over the government's lack of transparency.
The ministry said nobody had died from the latest outbreak, which began Jan. 6, and stressed that preventive measures already taken had put the disease "on the way to extinction." It said cholera was first detected in the capital's Cerro neighborhood, and then spread elsewhere. No other areas of the capital were mentioned, but there have been reports of cases in the leafy Playa neighborhood that is home to many foreign embassies.
The government has not responded to repeated requests for comment in recent months, nor has it made any experts available to talk about the cholera situation. The family of one man, 46-year-old Ubaldo Pino Rodriguez, told The Associated Press last week that he died of cholera in Cerro on Jan. 2, about two weeks after going to the hospital with severe vomiting.
Rodriguez's sister, Yanise Pino, said her brother had a drinking problem and lived in squalid and unhygienic conditions in a tiny makeshift wooden dwelling.
"When he began to feel bad he thought it was from drinking and nothing else," she said, adding that he left the hospital of his own accord last month. She said that following his death authorities sealed off Ubaldo's room and told her to burn all his belongings.
Juan Bautista Ferrera, a retiree in Havana's Miramar neighborhood, told AP that he was hospitalized with cholera for five days last week after suffering severe diarrhea.
"I was isolated in a room and nobody could come to see me. I communicated with my wife by phone," he said, adding he never worried about his life. "I'm 75 years old and I don't fear anything. The medical attention was very good so I never thought for a minute I could die of it."
Ferrera's wife, Caridad Neyes, said health workers gave them chlorine to clean their home and also handed out medicine. She said several restaurants in the neighborhood were closed but have since reopened.
Cholera is a waterborne disease caused by a bacteria found in tainted water or food. It can kill within hours through dehydration, but is treatable if caught in time. Cholera is unusual in Cuba. But recent outbreaks in nearby Haiti have killed more than 7,200 people.
It was unclear why a new outbreak was being seen in Havana. Rains, which can help spread the disease, are common in January, but the weather has been unusually dry this year.
In August, Cuba announced that a cholera outbreak had run its course after sickening 417 people and leaving three dead. That outbreak originated in the eastern city of Manzanillo, in Granma province. Some have speculated the epidemic gained new life following the widespread devastation caused in October by Hurricane Sandy, which damaged more than 200,000 homes in eastern Cuba.