Cholera epidemic spreads to Florida and Dominican Republic

November 19, 2010 08:04

Two people who had returned recently from trips to Haiti have been diagnosed with having contracted cholera – one, a woman, in Collier County in southwest Florida, and the other, a man, in Higuey, a town in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic.

The Americano

Health authorities Wednesday faced the prospect of having to fight the cholera epidemic in three countries simultaneously, as the disease that has caused more than 1,000 deaths in Haiti spread to the Dominican Republic and Florida.

Two people who had returned recently from trips to Haiti have been diagnosed with having contracted cholera – one, a woman, in Collier County in southwest Florida, and the other, a man, in Higuey, a town in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic.

Health officials in Florida confirmed that the first case in the state of cholera linked to the outbreak in Haiti, involved a woman who had visited family along Haiti’s rural Artibonite River, where the outbreak began last month.

Dr. Thomas Torok of the Florida Department of Health, assured the public that the disease was not likely to spread because of better sanitation conditions in the state. The story in the Tampa Tribune said U.S. law forbids health officials from releasing the name or more information on the woman who contracted the disease, other than to say she had recovered.

The health department said other suspected cases of cholera were under investigation. No locally acquired cases have been reported. And a cholera outbreak in the United States is unlikely, they said.

“Cholera is not spread easily from person to person, except in situations like Haiti,” Torok said.

During the last cholera epidemic, which began in Peru in 1991, Florida saw about 20 cases of imported cholera. None of those patients transmitted the disease to anyone else in the state, officials said.

In the Dominican Republic, the situation is more serious, because sanitary conditions, particularly in the interior of the country and in areas bordering Haiti where authorities already have confirmed more than 1,000 dead as a result of the epidemic. .

Health authorities in the Dominican Republic confirmed the nation’s first case of cholera, just days after the government took drastic steps to limit border traffic with Haiti.

Dominican Health Minister Bautista Rojas said at a press conference Tuesday evening. that a 32-year-old Haitian man who works construction in the Dominican Republic and visited his homeland for a two-week vacation returned Friday vomiting and with diarrhea.

The man, identified as Wilmo Lowes, is in stable condition at a hospital in Higüey, in eastern Dominican Republic, Rojas said.

The man was in Haiti from Oct. 31 until Friday, when he traveled by bus from Haiti back to the Dominican Republic, sending authorities scrambling to determine whether he could have contaminated anyone along the way, press reports said. Three more cases were confirmed on the Haiti side of the border, according to press reports.

Meanwhile, in Haiti Reuters reported that anti-U.N. riots in the Haitian city of Cap-Haitien have disrupted international efforts to tackle a spreading cholera epidemic, increasing the risk of infection and death for tens of thousands of poor Haitians in the north, aid workers said on Wednesday.

The epidemic, which has killed 1,110 people and sickened 18,382, has piled misery on the Caribbean country as it struggles to recover from a massive January earthquake and prepares for crucial elections on November 28.

The unrest on Monday and Tuesday in Haiti’s northern city, which saw protesters, some of them armed with guns, attacking U.N. peacekeepers and blocking roads with burning barricades, prevented cholera patients from reaching hospitals and halted distribution of aid and medicines. Cap-Haitien was calmer on Wednesday, but debris still littered the roads.

Local media reported bodies of cholera victims being left in the streets of the city of close to 1 million, where aid agencies are battling to contain the fiercest spike of the month-old Haitian cholera epidemic. The protesters blamed U.N. Nepalese peacekeepers for bringing the cholera to Haiti, a charge denied by the U.N. mission in the country.

“We have to get aid to these people right away and this unrest is delaying that,” Julie Schindall, spokeswoman for the international charity Oxfam, told Reuters. She said vital time was being lost to combat a fast-acting diarrhea disease where hours can mean the difference between life and death.

“Every day we lose means hospitals go without supplies, patients go untreated and people remain ignorant of the danger they are facing,” the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Nigel Fisher, said in a statement.

Cholera is spread by contaminated water and food, but if caught early can be easily treated by oral rehydration fluids. If not treated, it can kill in hours.

The Americano / Agencies

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