Cuba’s public health ministry on Tuesday acknowledged 51 new cases of cholera in the capital amid growing concerns about the illness’ spread.
The ministry said nobody had died from the latest outbreak, which began on January 6, and stressed that preventive measures already taken had put the disease “on the way to extinction.” It said cholera was first detected in the capital’s Cerro neighborhood, and then spread elsewhere.
No other areas of the capital were mentioned, but there have been reports of cases in the leafy Playa neighborhood that is home to many foreign embassies.
The government has not responded to repeated requests for comment in recent months, nor has it made any experts available to talk about the cholera situation. The family of one man, 46-year-old Ubaldo Pino Rodriguez, told the Associated Press last week that he died of cholera in Cerro on January 2, about two weeks after going to the hospital with severe vomiting.
Rodriguez’s sister, Yanise Pino, said her brother had a drinking problem and lived in squalid and unhygienic conditions in a tiny makeshift wooden dwelling.
“When he began to feel bad he thought it was from drinking and nothing else,” she said, adding that he left the hospital of his own accord last month. She said that following his death authorities sealed off Ubaldo’s room and told her to burn all his belongings.
Cholera is a waterborne disease caused by a bacteria found in tainted water or food. It can kill within hours through dehydration, but is treatable if caught in time. It is unusual in Cuba, but recent outbreaks in nearby Haiti have killed more than 7,200 people.
It was unclear why a new outbreak was being seen in Havana. Rains, which can help spread the disease, are common in January, but the weather has been unusually dry this year.
In August, Cuba announced that a cholera outbreak had run its course after sickening 417 people and leaving three dead. That outbreak originated in the eastern city of Manzanillo, in Granma province.
Some have speculated the epidemic gained new life following the widespread devastation caused in October by Hurricane Sandy, which damaged more than 200,000 homes in eastern Cuba.
On Tuesday, the British Embassy in Havana issued a travel advisory in response to the cholera reports, urging its citizens to take “sensible precautions” and seek immediate medical attention for diarrhea. US diplomats on the island issued a travel warning Monday urging American citizens to follow local health recommendations.
Several other European diplomats have told the Associated Press they are also considering issuing advisories, and have been concerned that the government is not sharing information with them in a timely manner. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Tuesday’s public health ministry statement, carried in the Communist Party newspaper Granma and elsewhere, made no mention of any cholera cases reported outside Havana.