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Cholera Case Identified in Florida

A woman who recently returned to Florida from Haiti has a laboratory-confirmed case of cholera, Florida Department of Health (FDOH) officials announced Thursday.

“We are working with our health care partners to ensure appropriate care of this individual and prevent the spread of this disease within the community,” said Dr. Ana M. Viamonte Ros, state surgeon general, in a news release. “We will continue to monitor the state for any future cases.”

The case of cholera was identified through the state’s enhanced disease surveillance system and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where it was confirmed, the health department said.

Florida has asked local health care providers to watch for people who become sick or show symptoms of cholera after returning from travel to Haiti.  Travel between Haiti and Florida has increased since the Haitian earthquake in January, the health department noted, and most of the people making the trip are relief workers and Florida residents visiting family.

Travelers who have been exposed to cholera in Haiti may not become ill until they return to Florida, the health department warned.

Health care providers have been encouraged to report suspected cases of cholera immediately to county health departments without waiting for laboratory confirmation.  They’re also being advised to administer specific cholera testing in suspected cases and notify FDOH of the laboratory results.

Cholera, a bacteria that thrives in feces-contaminated water, can cause infection that is often mild or without symptoms.  In severe cases, however, watery diarrhea and vomiting can dehydrate and, without treatment, kill its victims within hours.

“It is very important for travelers who develop severe, watery diarrhea, or diarrhea and vomiting within five days after return from Haiti to seek medical attention immediately,” Viamonte Ros said. “Rapid treatment is the key to recovery.”

The rate of severe cases in Haiti is high because of the extreme poverty and unsanitary conditions there.  The Haitian health ministry’s latest figures on the cholera outbreak say 17,418 people have been hospitalized and 1,065 have died.  Meanwhile, a case of cholera has now been confirmed in the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor.

In the United States, water, sanitation and food systems minimize the risk for fecal contamination of food and water so the potential for cholera to spread is extremely low, but still possible, the health department said.  Person-to-person transmission is rare.

Nevertheless, the FDOH said it wants to ensure that high-risk situations such as cholera in a food-handler or clusters of illness are identified.

On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said exports from Haiti, including foods, are not likely to pose a risk for cholera transmission.  However, CDC discourages travelers from bringing noncommercial, perishable “souvenir seafood” from Haiti to the U.S. because of the risk for contamination.

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