Cholera spreads to Dominican Republic

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Cholera spreads to Dominican Republic

By the CNN Wire Staff
Dominican health ministry confirms first case of cholera
The sickened man is a Haitian worker who just returned from home
Haitians accuse U.N. peacekeepers of starting the cholera outbreak
They take to the streets to protest the more than 1,000 deaths
Cap Haitien, Haiti (CNN) -- The cholera outbreak in Haiti has spread across the border to the Dominican Republic and that nation has issued a maximum health alert, its health ministry said.

The first confirmed case is a 32-year-old Haitian construction worker who returned to the Dominican Republic last Friday with symptoms of the intestinal illness, the health ministry said Tuesday night.

Wilmo Louwes went back to Haiti on October 31 to take money home, according to the El Nacional newspaper.

Louwes came back Friday with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea and was hospitalized in Higuey, near the eastern resort town of Punta Cana. He was in stable condition and will probably be released from the hospital Wednesday, the newspaper quoted Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez as saying.

Two other suspected cases turned out to be negative, the health ministry said.

The cholera outbreak confirmed last month in northwest Haiti has killed 1,034 of the 16,799 people hospitalized with the disease, according to Haiti's health ministry.

As cases of cholera spread throughout Haiti, violent clashes erupted in the northern part of the country as angry demonstrators accused the United Nations peacekeepers of starting the outbreak.

Burning tires and cars sent thick black smoke across Cap Haitien, where the government appeared to have lost control.

Protesters set a police station ablaze and commercial flights were suspended to Haiti's second-largest city. At least one protester was killed by a peacekeeper acting in self-defense, the United Nations said.

Aid agencies appealed for calm and said the protests were hampering efforts to reach the sickened.

Aid workers have suspended clean water projects to slum areas, and canceled flights to deliver soap and other supplies to affected areas, a statement from aid agencies said.

Supplies in Cap Haitien are running out and the medical staff is overwhelmed as cholera mortality climbs, said Nigel Fisher, coordinator for humanitarian action for the U.N.

"We call upon all involved in these clearly orchestrated demonstrations to stop immediately so national and international partners can continue to save lives with our response to the cholera," Fisher said.

"Every day we lose means hospitals go without supplies, patients go untreated and people remain ignorant of the danger they are facing.

It is vital that everything possible is done to contain this outbreak in Cap Haitien while we still can -- but this is very difficult in the current environment."

The United Nations has denied the assertion that Nepalese peacekeepers were responsible for starting the cholera outbreak.

U.N. statements said the protests may be politically motivated to create insecurity ahead of November 28 elections.

The last cholera epidemic in the Western hemisphere began in Peru in 1991 and spread to some 16 other countries, from Argentina to Canada, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

From 1991 to 1997, Peru alone saw more than 650,000 cases.

A similar pattern in Haiti could produce some 270,000 cases, which means public health officials likely face long-term challenges in Haiti.

Officials in the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispanola with Haiti, had feared all along the disease could spread into their borders.

Symptoms of cholera, an acute, bacterial illness caused by drinking tainted water, can be mild or even nonexistent.

But sometimes they can be severe: leg cramps, profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting, which can cause rapid loss of body fluids and lead to dehydration, shock and death.

Journalist Diulka Perez and CNN's Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

The Dark Knight, November 17 2010, 9:00 AM

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