EU issues alert over cholera outbreaks in Caribbean

BRUSSELS, Belgium, July 25, 2011 – European Union (EU) health officials have issued a warning to travellers about the risk of contracting cholera in the Dominican Republic, a magnet for tourists, and Haiti.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a report that cholera is becoming endemic in the Dominican Republic. The country shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, which has been battling a large cholera epidemic since October 2010.

Cholera first spread from Haiti to the Dominican Republic last November, and the latter had had 5,367 suspected cases with 46 deaths by mid-June, the ECDC reported. It said 1,727 cases were confirmed.

“Despite intense efforts by the Ministries of Health in Haiti and the Dominican Republic and by humanitarian workers involved in the response to the epidemic, cholera is becoming endemic in both countries,” the report says. “It is anticipated that further epidemic peaks will occur, particularly during the rainy season.”

Two European tourists, a 69-year-old English woman and a 60-year-old German woman, contracted cholera while staying at resorts in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in May, the report states. Theirs were the first Dominican-linked cases reported by EU member states since the epidemic began. The sources of their infections were not pinpointed and could have been either water or food.

More than a million European tourists visit the Dominican Republic annually, according to the report. It said Haiti receives far fewer European visitors, with just 23,000 in 2007.

Because of the size of the Dominican epidemic, occasional travel-related cases can be expected and may increase during the country’s rainy seasons, the ECDC says. Overall, though, the risk of cholera in visitors to the country should be considered low.

The ECDC says visitors to cholera-endemic countries should drink only bottled or chlorinated water, carefully wash all fruits and vegetables with potable water, regularly wash their hands, and eat seafood only if it is thoroughly cooked. In the EU, cholera vaccination is not routinely recommended for travelers, but it might be considered for people who work in refugee camps and certain other groups. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)