An outbreak of cholera in Cuba has prompted Canadian and European agencies to issue health advisories to the Caribbean country, a popular destination for tourists.

As of Thursday, 85 cases had been confirmed by Cuba's Ministry of Health, which says the outbreak is "under control." Three elderly people have died from the disease and cholera is suspected in two other cases, according to NBC News.

What is cholera?

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It is spread by drinking or eating contaminated water or food, including undercooked or raw shellfish and fish. Most infected people do not show its symptoms, which  include:

  • Mild to moderate diarrhea with or without vomiting.
  • In more severe cases, frequent watery diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration and even death if not treated promptly.

Transmission

  • Eating undercooked or raw shellfish or fish.
  • Eating or drinking food or water contaminated by infected persons.
  • Exposure to feces of an infected person.

— Public Health Agency of Canada 

"The Ministry of Public Health in Cuba has reported an increase in the number of cases of illness with diarrhea in some areas of the country due to high temperatures and heavy rainfall," said a notice posted on the Canadian Public Health Agency’s website.

"The risk to European travellers remains low, yet if the outbreak spreads beyond this region, the risk should be reassessed," said a notice on the website of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Cuban officials said the outbreak is contained with Granma province, with most cases being reported from the municipality of Manzanillo, where people are being checked for symptoms before boarding buses and trains out of town.

The death rate for those who receive proper treatment — most notably rehydration salts — is less than one per cent, but can be 50 per cent or higher for those who don’t get treated.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is advising travellers to Cuba to follow basic food safety precautions, including frequent hand-washing, avoiding food from street vendors and drinking only boiled or bottled water.

It also directs travellers from Cuba who develop symptoms upon their return to Canada to seek immediate medical attention.

Food and water safety

  • Boil it, cook it, peel it or leave it!
  • Always wash your hands before eating and drinking. Use soap and warm running water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Only eat food that has been well cooked and is still hot when served. Avoid uncooked foods, especially shellfish and salads.
  • Drink and use ice only from purified water that has been boiled or disinfected with chlorine or iodine, or commercially bottled water in sealed containers. Carbonated drinks, including beer, are usually safe.
  • Brush your teeth with purified or bottled water.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Avoid food from street vendors.

— Public Health Agency of Canada