Cuba acknowledges 51 cholera cases

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm •  Published: January 15, 2013
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On Tuesday, the British Embassy in Havana issued a travel advisory in response to the cholera reports, urging its citizens to take "sensible precautions" and seek immediate medical attention for diarrhea. U.S. diplomats on the island issued a travel warning Monday urging American citizens to follow local health recommendations.

Several other European diplomats have told AP they are also considering issuing advisories, and have been concerned that the government is not sharing information with them in a timely manner. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Tourism is the top sector in Cuba's flagging Communist economy, with 2.8 million visitors a year and about $2.5 billion in annual revenue. A major cholera outbreak is sure to make some visitors think twice about a trip, despite Cuba's sterling reputation in responding to epidemics and natural disasters.

The island has a well-organized civil defense system capable of rapidly mobilizing government agencies and citizens groups. Brigades of workers go door to door, noisily fumigating homes and admonishing residents to eliminate standing water where mosquitos bearing another tropical disease, dengue, could breed.

American tourists are barred from visiting Cuba due to the half-century old economic embargo, but 400,000 Cuban-Americans come down each year for family visits, and about 100,000 others get licenses to come on cultural or other exchanges. There have been no reports so far of any tourists coming down with the illness.

Tuesday's Public Health Ministry statement — carried in the Communist Party newspaper Granma and elsewhere — made no mention of any cholera cases reported outside Havana.

While Cuba's state-run media had been largely silent about cholera before Tuesday, there has been an intensified campaign against water-borne diarrhetic illnesses, of which cholera is one. Several health centers in the capital require visitors to sanitize their shoes by stepping in chlorine when they enter, and state schools have been stressing hand-washing and other hygiene measures.

While some have voiced nervousness over the outbreak, many said they were confident the government had a strong handle on the outbreak.

Beatriz Guerra, a 26-year-old mother of two who lives in Miramar, said a state-run school attended by her eldest son was closed briefly last week to clean and disinfect the rooms and furniture. She said residents had been advised at neighborhood meetings to take precautions and be particularly vigilant of what their children were touching and putting in their mouth.

"I know that they are taking the necessary measures," she said. "One just needs to be very cautious."

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Follow Paul Haven on Twitter: www.twitter.com/paulhaven



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