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  • Cholera outbreak in Cuba not keeping Canadian travellers at home

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    Published 01/18/2013 17:21:17
    Cholera outbreak in Cuba not keeping Canadian travellers at home

    TORONTO - Authorities in Cuba are acknowledging a spate of new cholera cases in the capital, but the outbreak doesn't seem to be keeping Canadians away.

    Travel agents say January is always a popular time for bookings to Cuba and they say business hasn't tailed off in the least.

    Some agents say word of 51 new cholera cases in the Havana area has only sparked a handful inquiries from people who have no plans to cancel their trips.

    The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued a low-key advisory about the outbreak, but says most travellers are at low risk of contracting the intestinal illness.

    Cuba's health ministry says no one has died from the latest batch of cases, which began surfacing earlier this month.

    It says the country has taken preventive measures to quash the disease for good.

    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.

    The current outbreak has been largely confined to the Havana region, Cuban authorities said — a caveat that's made life easier for travel planners based in Canada.

    Oscar Jacas, a travel agent specializing in Cuban excursions, said he's been able to reassure the very few travellers who have raised concerns about the outbreak.

    Bookings have kept pouring into A. Nash Travel Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., but only one woman was even considering putting her travel plans on ice, he said.

    The outbreak has been largely concentrated in the Cerro neighbourhood of the capital, according to authorities, and Jacas said he's simply advised clients to steer clear of an area that already holds little appeal for the average tourist.

    "I can tell to the clients, don't go to Cerro," he said in a telephone interview. "Keep going in the nice areas in the centre of Havana ... where there is no cholera."

    Cholera has generated some discussion on online travel forums, but the majority of posters have been quick to calm the few who expressed trepidation about their upcoming trips.

    "There's pretty much a 0 chance of any resort allowing contaminated food to be served to a guest; it'll only take one tourist getting sick & posting it online to do them in financially," one Toronto-based user wrote on tripadvisor.ca.

    "We are booked for March.....and we have no intention of cancelling," wrote another user from London, Ont., adding the federal government would likely issue warnings of the situation escalated.

    The advisory that Public Health issued on Tuesday did not discourage Canadians from visiting the island, but simply urged would-be travellers to take safe food and water precautions such as washing hands frequently, avoiding raw food and only using ice made with purified water.

    British and U.S. diplomats on the islands have issued similar cautions.

    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.

    Recent outbreaks in nearby Haiti have killed more than 7,200 people.

    While Cuba's state-run media had been largely silent about cholera before this week, there has been an intensified campaign against water-borne diarrhetic illnesses, of which cholera is one. Several health centres in the capital require visitors to sanitize their shoes by stepping in chlorine when they enter, and state schools have been stressing hand-washing and other hygiene measures.

    — With files from the Associated Press

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