The number of cholera cases confirmed in eastern Cuba jumped from 30 to 85 over the weekend but the death toll remained at three, one government official said, although independent reports put the deaths at anywhere from five to 15.
Up to five other cases of cholera also were unofficially reported in Havana and dissidents in Guantánamo near the eastern tip of the island reported a handful of cholera-like cases in Caimanera, a village on the edge of the U.S. navy base.
The state-owned TV station in Granma province, where the outbreak hit hardest, suggested residents avoid travelling outside the area while trucks with loudspeakers urged them to boil water and wash their hands often, two residents said.
Public Health officials in the British-run Cayman Islands, just south of Granma, issued a caution against travel to Cuba and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen warned potential travelers that visiting the island “may put them at risk of becoming ill with cholera.”
The U.S. Center for Disease Control in Atlanta had not issued any special travel notices on Cuba as of Monday evening. Its Web page recommends only general vaccinations, like those for Hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever and rabies.
Government epidemiologist Ana Maria Batista González told Granma’s Telecentro TV station Saturday that 30 cholera cases had been confirmed in the province, then upped the number to 85 when she appeared again on the station Sunday, said Santiago Marquez, a doctor in the Granma town of Manzanillo.
A Cuban government statement July 3 — the only other official word on the outbreak — said 53 cholera cases had been confirmed and that the outbreak was “under control.” There was no explanation for the conflicting numbers, although it’s possible the 53 may have referred to cases in the southeastern region, not just Granma.
Batista also noted the number of suspected cases in Granma rose from 332 to 346 and more general cases of diarrhea and vomiting rose from 3,422 to 3,998 and that 110 persons have been hospitalized, Marquez added by phone to El Nuevo Herald.
Most of the cases have been recorded in Manzanillo and the provincial capital, Bayamo, as well as nearby municipalities of Niquero, Yara and Bartolome Masó, Batista added. All are along Cuba’s southern coast, about 415 miles east of Havana.
Batista said the death toll remained at three — the same number the government reported on July 3. Bayamo dissident Yoandris Montoya said he had heard reports of five deaths and Marquez put it at about 10. Havana dissident Calixto Martínez has reported about 15.
Batista’s TV appearances seemed to mark the start of a government effort to step up its public information on the outbreak, and she was expected to appear on Telecentro again late Monday.
But police kept up a heavy security presence at area hospitals and relatives were not allowed to visit patients with cholera, said Marquez. He was fired from his public health job after his wife, Tania de la Torre, became a human rights activist.
Cholera was declared to have been eradicated in Cuba no later than the early 1900s, but an ongoing outbreak in neighboring Haiti has killed more than 7,400 people and scores of Cuban doctors have worked there. A Florida woman and others in the Dominican Republic who visited Haiti came down with cholera in 2010 but survived.
Cholera is generally not fatal but can kill in a matter of hours when the diarrhea and vomiting cause dehydration, especially among the elderly. The three dead confirmed by the Cuban government were 60 or older.
Cuba once boasted one of the best and broadest public health systems in the Western Hemisphere. It remains capable, but it has been going downhill since the end of the Soviet Union’s massive subsidies in the early 1990s.
The government announcement last week said the cholera was spreading through contaminated water wells, but gave no explanation of how the bacteria entered the wells or the water pipes. A Cuban television report last month noted that up to 58 percent of the water pumped nationally is wasted because of breaks in the pipes.
Cuban authorities also have not commented on unofficial reports that dengue fever, which is carried by mosquitoes, is spreading rapidly through a dozen Cuban cities and has killed at least five people in Havana.