A Collier County woman is Florida's first documented case of cholera imported from Haiti. The woman, who lives in southwest Florida, had been visiting family in the region of the earthquake-devastated nation that is at the center of its cholera epidemic.
Florida health officials said Wednesday she is doing well, and is not considered a threat to the health of others. Hers is the only confirmed case of cholera in Florida, said Dr. Thomas Torok of the Florida Department of Health's bureau of epidemiology. The state is investigating suspected cases, but Torok would not say more about them.
"We really don't anticipate that we will see any sustained transmission caused by Haiti in Florida or anywhere else in the United States," Torok said. "The risk is so low because our water and sanitation systems really minimize the risk to folks."
The cholera outbreak in Haiti, officially reported in late October, has claimed more than 1,000 lives, according to the World Health Organization.
Long a dreaded disease, cholera can kill within hours if left untreated. In severe cases, infected people can experience severe, watery diarrhea and vomiting that rapidly leads to dehydration. But most people who are infected do not develop any symptoms.
Cholera is highly treatable by immediately replacing the fluids and salts lost through diarrhea with oral rehydration solution. Extremely dehydrated patients may require intravenous fluids. Antibiotics may be used to shorten the course of the illness but are not considered as important.
In the United States, modern water and sewage treatment programs eliminated the spread of cholera, which is rarely passed from person to person. But it remains a threat to American travelers. Each year, the WHO estimates that 3 million to 5 million cases of cholera are seen internationally. More than 100,000 people die worldwide.
In Haiti before the earthquake, a cholera epidemic had not been reported since the mid 19th century, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's not clear how cholera arrived in Haiti, where unsanitary conditions have allowed it to flourish.
Florida health officials see the situation in Haiti as similar to a cholera outbreak in Latin America during the 1990s, during which the state saw about 20 cases of imported cholera.
State health officials urge travelers who have recently returned from Haiti and develop severe, watery diarrhea to seek medical attention.
They also want physicians to request stool specimens on suspected cases and immediately report them to the county health department, without waiting for laboratory confirmation.
Florida officials said they are taking precautions by monitoring any affected people, especially food handlers, to make sure they don't return to work too soon.
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com.