Cuban doctors battle to control cholera outbreak

Manzanillo, Cuba – At first the Cuban doctors thought they were dealing with an outbreak of food poisoning.
The patients that arrived for treatment in mid-June at hospitals in Manzanillo had all gone to the same birthday party held at a house in the hilly countryside on the perimeter of the eastern Cuban city. 


The sick had eaten shrimp at the party and doctors thought that meal might be the cause for the patients’ heavy vomiting and diarrhea.
Then more people began walking into hospitals with similar symptoms.
But they had not attended the party.

“They started coming in a few at a time,” said Julio Cesar Fonseca Rivero, the director of the Celia Sanchez Manduley Hospital, the largest in the region. “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.”
A sudden spike in cases of diarrhea is not unusual for Manzanillo’s hospitals that treat the surrounding rural communities. There residents often live without indoor plumbing and in the summer months endure the scorching heat and heavy rains.
Illness kills three in eastern Cuba
This summer had already been particularly hot with heavy rains that caused outhouses to flood into several drinking wells.
Still, doctors suspected they were dealing with something they hadn’t seen before.
“We became alarmed with the number of cases arriving. We usually see one or two cases of diarrhea each day,” said Dr. Oyantis Matos Zamora, who oversees a clinic on the edge of the city that attends to rural residents.
The symptoms some patients exhibited — the rapid onset of watery diarrhea and dehydration — had also not been seen in generations.
“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,” said Dr. Manuel Santin Peña, Cuba’s national director of epidemiology.
The “problem” was cholera.
Cuba’s last cholera outbreak occurred over a century ago. Although eradicated in many countries, the disease, according to the World Health Organization, still infects between 3 million and 5 million people each year, killing between 100,000 and 120,000.
In Manzanillo the outbreak has taken on a name of its own. There it’s simply referred to by residents as “el evento.”
So far “el evento” has taken three lives and infected at least 110 people, said Santin. He said 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.(CNN)

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