Cuba battling first major cholera outbreak in half a century

HAVANA, Cuba, Monday July 9, 2012 – At least three people and as many as 15 are said to have died in Cuba over the past few weeks as the island’s first major cholera outbreak in more than 50 years spreads.

Most of the cases were in Cuba’s south-eastern Granma province but it appears now that the disease has travelled the more than 750km (470 miles) to Havana.

The latest reports from the BBC are that a 60-year-old woman admitted to a Havana hospital last Wednesday (July 4) has been confirmed with the disease. As she was diagnosed early, doctors say she is in a stable condition.

According to the BBC and Reuters, official reports are that three people have died of cholera and another 50 have been diagnosed with the illness in an outbreak caused by contaminated well water, while about 1,000 have received medical attention. The three people who died ranged in age from 66 to 95-years-old and reportedly suffered from other chronic health problems.

However, according to the CMC, Havana independent journalist Calixto Martinez reports that the outbreak has killed at least 15 people and affected hundreds more. He said he had obtained information from residents and health workers in the region.

More than 50 people have reportedly been infected and authorities say the outbreak is under control but four hospitals have been prepared to quarantine patients.

On Tuesday (July 3), the Cuban government said the illness was caused by contaminated well water and it blamed recent heavy rains and high temperatures for the water problems, which forced the closure of some wells and the chlorination of the water system in the hardest hit areas.

The Public Health Ministry said in a statement that the township of Mazanillo in the southeast province of Granma had suffered the most cholera cases, which have occurred in the last few weeks, but that the outbreak is slowing.

Cholera is an intestinal infection that can lead to death if not treated promptly and properly. Cholera outbreaks have been rare, or at least not publicized, in Cuba since the 1959 revolution and the creation of a national health system by the communist government. The Health Ministry said the last reported cholera outbreak on the island was soon after the 1959 Revolution.

According to the BBC, while it is not clear what the source of the cholera is, there is speculation that there is a Haiti link.

Hundreds of medical professionals from the centre of the Cuban infection, including nurses, have worked and continue to work with patients in Haiti, where tens of thousands of people were infected after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

Cuba’s health ministry has stated that it has the “resources necessary for the adequate attention to patients in all the health institutions” during this cholera outbreak.
They said they had taken a series of measures, including taking samples of water and adding chlorine to purify it, to combat the outbreak. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)