A suspected case of cholera has landed in Miami. The disease has killed some 2,000 people and put 30,000 others in hospitals in Haiti.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) confirms that a man fell ill with cholera-like symptoms Thanksgiving Day while on an American Airlines flight from Santo Domingo to Miami International Airport.
The CDC said the man is a doctor who had been treating cholera patients. American Airlines said he had been to Haiti, and was returning on their flight 778 from the neighboring Dominican Republic. The flight was met by health officials and an EMS team when it arrived at MIA at 6:06 pm Thursday.
Dr. Fermin Leguen of the Miami-Dade Health Department confirmed at a Friday afternoon news conference that the man had symptoms suggestive of cholera - nausea, diarrhea and dehydration. Leguen said it could take several days for tests to confirm whether he in fact has the disease. Officials have not released the patient's name. CBS4 News learned that he is being treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Leguen said the flight crew became aware that the man was in distress. American Airlines said he became ill as the plane neared Miami and another doctor on the plane tended to him.
"We contacted our staff physicians from the cockpit and they said the plane should be met by EMS," said Tim Smith, a spokesperson for American in Dallas. "We contacted the Centers For Disease Control and were assured that cholera is not contagious under normal circumstances."
Smith said that, as a precaution, "The aircraft was taken out of service overnight and underwent a thorough sanitizing of the lavatories and passenger areas."
At MIA on Friday, some passengers found news of the mid-flight eruption of possible cholera unsettling.
"Wow, it's a little scary," said Toni Ricard who was catching a flight to New Orleans. "I hadn't heard anything about it."
Health officials said there is almost nothing for other passengers on Thursday's flight to be scared or concerned about. The
Miami-Dade Health Department said it arranged a news briefing Friday only in response to "many requests from the media."
"Transmission of cholera from person to person is very rare," said Leguen. The epidemiologist said someone would have to actually touch an infected person's feces or vomit and then put their hand to their mouth in order to contract the disease. The virus is not considered to be contagious, and is almost always spread through contaminated water or food, Leguen said.
Health officials said there is virtually no chance of a cholera outbreak in South Florida, given that the water supply is safe and sanitation generally good - in contrast to largely squalid conditions in Haiti.
American Airlines said no announcement was made to passengers on the plane with the man who fell sick.
"There has been no request from the Centers for Disease Control that any announcement be made," said Billy Sanez, an American spokesperson. "We have contact information for everyone who was on the plane, if health officials request a notification."
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