Cuban authorities are scrambling to contain a cholera outbreak that has sickened dozens of people in Havana, the capital city of 2.2 million residents and a popular tourism destination.
In a brief communiqué issued on Tuesday, the Health Ministry said the outbreak was first detected on January 6, and was being contained.
"Fifty-one cases have been confirmed to date," the statement read, without mentioning fatalities.
"Due to the measures adopted transmission is in the phase of extinction," it said.
But in off-the-record discussions with a ministry official and doctor directly involved in fighting the outbreak, a different picture emerged with hundreds of suspected cases.
They said the first cases were traced to a baseball game at the Latin American Stadium in the Cerro municipality of the Cuban capital, where fans come from all parts of the city to watch their team, the Industriales, play.
"We know what happened. Either the pork sandwiches or Tan Rico soda pop was contaminated at a game earlier this month," the official said.
"Even some of the baseball players became sick," she added.
The Health Ministry statement said the outbreak had begun in Cerro and "later spread to other municipalities in the capital."
Tens of thousands of tourists are visiting Havana, but there have been no reports of foreigners catching the illness.
Community clinics and family doctors are on high alert and giving out instructions to prevent the disease, transportation hubs have passengers sterilizing their shoes before leaving town and eateries are being systematically inspected and sometimes closed, residents say.
The official said Havana had been preparing to fight the disease since Cuba's first cholera outbreak in decades last year in eastern Granma province.
There have been scattered cases since then, but all were traced to the Granma area and quickly contained, she said.
"This time is different. There are many cases, but we are well prepared in terms of supplies and the protocol," she said, adding, "let's just hope we can stop this before it becomes much worse."The official notice is hard to find in the Cuban media, but here's the Nota informativa a la población [Informative note to the public] in Granma. It's not published in English, so here's a quick paraphrase:
On Sunday, January 6, acute diarrhea was diagnosed in Cerro and then in other parts of Havana. Some patients' symptoms raised suspicions of cholera, which led to the activation of the anti-cholera plan.
The agent was identified as Vibrio cholerae 01 Tor serotype Ogawa and has been confirmed so far in 51 cases. The source was identified as a food seller, an asymptomatic carrier of the disease, who had acquired it during outbreaks reported earlier elsewhere in the country.
Thanks to the measures adopted, cholera transmission is being extinguished. This is possible due to permanent surveillance and the response capacity of our health system. Hygienic measures are being intensified, especially handwashing, consumption of chlorinated water, cleanliness, and adequate cooking of food.