Florida Department of Health Monitoring Cuba Cholera Outbreak

Potential for spread in Sunshine State low: officials

By Hank Tester
|  Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012  |  Updated 7:03 PM EDT
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The Florida Department of Health says the potential for the spread of cholera is extremely low despite the recent reports of an outbreak of the infection in Cuba. Dr. Alvaro Mejia-Echeverry, with the Department of Heath, said travel to Cuba is still not an issue.

The Florida Department of Health says the potential for the spread of cholera is extremely low despite the recent reports of an outbreak of the infection in Cuba. Dr. Alvaro Mejia-Echeverry, with the Department of Heath, said travel to Cuba is still not an issue.

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The Florida Department of Health says the potential for the spread of cholera is extremely low despite the recent reports of an outbreak of the infection in Cuba.

"In light of recent reports of the cholera outbreak in Cuba, I want to assure Floridians of their safety and the surveillance and prevention efforts of the Florida Department of Health," Dr. Steven Harris, deputy secretary at the department, said in a statement. "The potential for spread of cholera in Florida is extremely low because our water, sanitation, and food systems minimize the risk for contaminated food and water, and person-to-person transmission is rare."

The Cuban government has confirmed that cholera has killed three people and sickened another 85 recently. The outbreak was caused by contaminated well water.

Harris said there have been no outbreaks of cholera in Florida in recent memory but there have been 15 cases of cholera in Florida residents over the last two years, but those resulted from travel to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

As for Cuba, Dr. Alvaro Mejia-Echeverry, also with the Department of Heath, said travel to Cuba is still not an issue.

"There has not been an alert released by the federal, state or local government against travel to that country," he said.

Harris urged travelers heading to countries where cholera is present to take precautions to avoid transmission.

"This includes drinking bottled water, washing hands with soap and clean water, using latrines and cooking food thoroughly," Harris said. "If you develop watery diarrhea after traveling to cholera-active countries you should seek medical attention."

South Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sent letters to the State Department, the Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Miami-Dade County Health Department on Wednesday urging them to post travel warnings on their websites.

The Health Department has such a notice on its site.

“Regardless of the attempts by the Castro regime to ignore the cholera outbreak, there is no denying that cholera is spreading throughout Cuba. This is a serious health problem for Cubans, but also for the U.S. because of the heavy stream of travelers between both nations. The Cuban regime, unlike other countries with cholera cases, is secretive, deceitful and uncooperative with international health officials," said Ros-Lehtinen, who also asked OFAC to notify everyone who holds a Cuba travel license about the cholera outbreak. "The State Department has a responsibility to warn U.S. travelers about the danger to nations with an outbreak such as cholera and I expect them to do so."

Cholera causes intestinal problems and can lead to death by dehydration if not treated promptly and properly. It's simple to treat if recognized early, Harris said.

"As dramatic as it can be, it is very, very easy disease to treat. It's usually cured in a matter of a few days," Mejia-Echeverry said.

Anyone coming into the U.S. with symptoms is quickly spotted when seeking medical help, Mejia-Echeverry said.

Harris said the Health Department will continue to monitor the outbreak.

"We have a very robust, very solid surveillance system," Mejia-Echeverry said, noting that at instance of cholera found at a hospital is reported within minutes.

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