Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cuban cholera outbreak has Yucatán health authorities on high alert

No local cases detected yet, but state health officials remember 1995 disaster

*Updates below*
Mérida, Yucatán --
A two week old cholera outbreak in Cuba has Yucatán health officials concerned and on the alert.

This morning the Cuban government acknowledged the outbreak for the first time, although it was reported in the international press in early July. Havana said that 158 cases of the illness have been officially diagnosed in major cities, with isolated instances in remote areas of the country. Three people have died, according to government sources. But some outside the country have claimed there are many more cases, based upon anecdotal reports.

Álvaro Quijano Vivas, the Yucatán state secretary of health, said yesterday that no cases of cholera have been reported here since the Cuban outbreak. But given the peninsula's proximity to the island and the frequent direct flights between Mérida and Havana, authorities have stepped up medical surveillance of arriving passengers. If someone exhibits a sign of serious illness, that person will be questioned and subjected to greater scrutiny before being allowed to clear immigration control at the city's airport.

Cholera is an intestinal infection characterized by intense diarrhea and vomiting. It can quickly lead to severe dehydration, and if not treated promptly, to death. The primary transmission route is food or water which has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person, even if that person presents with no apparent symptoms. Lack of hand-washing, personal hygiene and the failure to observe high standards of sanitation in places where food products are cooked and sold are typically implicated in outbreaks, which are far more common in emerging nations than in industrialized countries.

The state health department claims there has been no diagnosed case of cholera in Yucatán since 1998. But three years earlier there was a sudden and massive outbreak which struck 3,600 people. Twelve persons died in the 1995 contagion, the source of which was never determined. The elderly, the young and those already in a compromised state of health are most at risk, especially persons suffering from infectious diseases.

In contrast to Mérida, Cancún airport officials said they have received no special directives from Quintana Roo health authorities, and are not taking additional steps to monitor the health of arriving passengers. Travel statistics show that far more people arrive on the Yucatán peninsula via Cancún than through Mérida, especially visitors from the United States and Canada.

Aug. 4 - Cases officially reported by the Cuban government have risen to 237, but one source reports that over 10,000 people on the island are now presenting with symptoms associated with cholera.
July 30 - A Mexican senator today called upon the federal government to issue a nationwide alert for Dengue. So far, only Yucatán and Tabasco states have done so.
July 25 - Dengue fever roars on in Yucatán
July 22 - Diagnosed cases in Cuba rise to 200, and still no precautions in Cancún
July 18 - Mexican state of Tabasco on cholera alert
July 18 - The cholera outbreak in Havana has now risen to 177 cases, according to the island government, with another eight cases reported in an outlying province. At Cancún international aiport, where daily flights arrive from Cuba, immigration officials continue to "treat the situation lightly," reports a local newspaper this morning.
July 15 - 400 Cuban passengers arrive daily in Cancún, but no special vigilance
July 15 - La Habana rompe silencio sobre el cólera

March 10 - Mérida is the Dengue capital of Mexico, government agencies say
Feb. 27 - Rabies on the rise in Mérida and environs

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