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Cuba struggling with first cholera outbreak in more than a century

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 13th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Cuba is dealing with its first cholera outbreak in more than a century. 'El Evento" as it has been dubbed by doctors has claimed three lives and sickened more than a hundred so far.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The outbreak was first mistakenly diagnosed as food poisoning as the first patients - complaining of diarrhea and dehydration, all attended the same birthday party in Manzanillo. The sick had all eaten shrimp at the party.

Then more people began walking into hospitals - who had not attended the party with similar symptoms. "They started coming in a few at a time," Julio Cesar Fonseca Rivero, the director of the Celia Sanchez Manduley Hospital, the largest in the region says.

"The first day five came, and then eight. That's not normal, that five people would come with the same symptoms. The most critical days were when there were 30 to 32 patients who arrived in a single day."

Diarrhea is not unusual for Manzanillo's hospitals as many in the area live without indoor plumbing. The summer had already been particularly hot with heavy rains that caused outhouses to flood into several drinking wells.

"The way that the outbreak developed and the appearance of other similar cases in the region, we realized this was a problem of a different magnitude," Dr. Manuel Santin Peņa, Cuba's national director of epidemiology said.

It was determined that the mystery illness was cholera - unusual, as Cuba's last cholera outbreak occurred over a century ago. While eradicated in many countries, cholera infects between three million and five million people each year, killing between 100,000 and 120,000.

Doctors were waiting on test results for tens of other possible cases but said so far fewer than 30 percent of suspected cases had been shown to be cholera.

A handful of suspected cases had been identified elsewhere in Cuba. Santin says those cases had come from the same region where the original outbreak took place and are believed to have been infected there.

"We can categorically say that there is no other outbreak in any other province," Santin told CNN.

The local government has closed 12 contaminated wells around Manzanillo, Santin said. Clean water is being trucked in for residents until a different source of water can be found.

Entrances to hospitals and government buildings in the city provide buckets for people to wash their hands and soles of their shoes with chlorine bleach. In addition, kiosks throughout Manzanillo that sell milkshakes, iced drinks or other foods that came into contact with water have been closed.

A temporary ban has also been issued for fishing and bathing in waters off the coast that may be contaminated.

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