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Cuba announces 51 confirmed cholera cases in Havana

Cuban media published a health advisory Tuesday warning people to take precautions to avoid contracting cholera and revealing 51 confirmed cases in Cuba's capital of Havana.

The advisory, which was reported by the newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), says that a steep increase in patients suffering from diarrhea was detected as of Jan. 6 in the Havana municipality of Cerro. Subsequently, cases began showing up in other areas of the Cuban capital.

There have been widespread rumors of a cholera outbreak -- first in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba following Hurricane Sandy's rampage through the city where precautions such as asking people to disinfect their shoes and hands before entering public buildings and telling people to use water purification drops sold in local pharmacies have been implemented.

However, Tuesday's advisory is the first official public admission of a cholera outbreak in the capital. The advisory issued by the Ministry of Public Health says Cuba has all the necessary resources to combat the disease and an anti-cholera plan has been activated.

The advisory does not confirm any deaths from cholera in Havana but there are rumors of at least one death in Cerro municipality.

Rumors swirled for weeks about the cholera outbreak and people and foreign embassies are angry that the warning was not issued sooner.

All neighborhood health clinics in Havana have been ordered by Public Health Ministry to set aside a room for cholera patients, whether or not there have been any cases in their area.

All of these clinics have cholera test and treatment kits on hand.

The information published in today's editions of Cuba's main newspapers says the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute has pinned down the cause as the "Vibrio Cholerae O1 Tor enterotoxigenic serotype Ogawa".

The Public Health Ministry blames the outbreak on a food vendor in Cerro, a symptom-free carrier of the bacteria that they say he picked up during a previously announced cholera outbreak in "other regions of the country," a reference to the disease's appearance in eastern Cuba last summer.

The advisory says measures adopted are stopping the further spread of cholera.

The health authorities warn people to step up hygiene measures such as frequent hand washing, the drinking of chlorinated water, and the adequate cooking of food.

Cafeterias and food vendors in Cerro and other areas of the capital have either been shut down or told they can only sell bottled water, canned soft drinks or industrially-packed fruit juices.

Schools have been supplied with soap and water treated with chlorine and teachers have been instructed to make sure students wash their hands before lunch.

All but one entrance to Havana's central bus terminal have been closed and people entering must clean the soles of their shoes by stepping in chlorine. Apparently this measure is being taken in other public places.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana has issued a travel "Security Message" for U.S. citizens on the cholera outbreak.

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