Top doctor tells public to stay away from Haiti

| 28/10/2010

(CNS): Following a cholera outbreak in Haiti, Cayman’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar has issued a travel warning advising residents to avoid the country unless it is essential. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 259 people have been killed by cholera in Haiti following well over three thousand confirmed cases. “We advise that residents travel to Haiti only when necessary. If you have to go, take vital precautions such as ensuring hygienic food preparation, boiling or purifying all water, and washing hands often with soap and clean water. Travellers should also carry an ample supply of oral rehydration salts,” said Dr. Kumar.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. It causes rapid watery diarrhoea that leads to severe dehydration. However, according to WHO figures, up to 80 percent of cases can be treated successfully with oral rehydration salts.
The disease is spread through water which may be tainted by the faeces of infected persons or by untreated sewage. Food can be contaminated by using this tainted water or by being handled by someone who has cholera.

While an oral cholera vaccine exists, it is usually only stocked by countries where cholera is endemic. Currently, the vaccine is not available in the Cayman Islands or the US. The US Centres for Disease Control does not recommend the vaccine for travellers to cholera endemic countries, as it offers incomplete protection.

“We will explore the feasibility of procuring some doses for travellers to Haiti. However, because it is a two-dose vaccine, multiple weeks can elapse before persons receiving the vaccine are protected. So even when people are vaccinated, they should still practice standard prevention and control measures,” Dr. Kumar explained.

He urged travellers returning from Haiti to contact a doctor immediately, and state their travel history, should they develop diarrhoea within five days.

Even if not vaccinated against cholera, travellers to Haiti can greatly reduce the risk of contracting the disease by following these practices:
Drink only bottled, boiled or chemically-treated water and/or bottled or canned beverages.
Ensure that seals are unbroken when using bottled drinks.
Disinfect your own water: boil for one minute or filter the water and add two drops of household bleach or half an iodine tablet per litre of water.Use bottled, boiled or chemically-treated water to wash dishes and brush teeth.
Use ice in your drink only if you know it was made from boiled or treated water.
Wash your hands often with soap and clean water.
Clean your hands before you eat or prepare foods and after using the bathroom.
Eat foods that have been thoroughly cooked and are still hot, or fruit that you have peeled yourself.
Cook all vegetables. Do not eat salads or other raw vegetables.
Do not buy food or beverages from street vendors.


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