MIAMI — The number of cholera cases confirmed in eastern Cuba jumped from 30 to 85 over the weekend but the death toll remained at three, one government official said, although independent reports put the number of deaths as high as 15.
As many as five other cases of cholera also were unofficially reported in Havana, and dissidents in Guantanamo near the eastern tip of the island reported cholera-like cases in Caimanera, a village on the edge of the U.S. naval base.
The state-owned TV station in Granma province, where the outbreak has hit hardest, suggested that residents avoid traveling outside the area, and trucks with loudspeakers urged them to boil water and wash their hands often, two residents said.
Public health officials in the British-run Cayman Islands, just south of Granma, issued a advisory against travel to Cuba, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., warned potential travelers that visiting the island "may put them at risk of becoming ill with cholera."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had not issued any special travel notices on Cuba as of Monday evening. Its Web page recommends only general vaccinations, like those for Hepatitis A and B, typhoid fever and rabies.
Cuban government epidemiologist Ana Maria Batista Gonzalez told Granma's Telecentro TV station Saturday that 30 cholera cases had been confirmed in the province, then raised the number to 85 when she appeared again on the station Sunday, said Santiago Marquez, a doctor and dissident in the Granma town of Manzanillo.
A Cuban government statement July 3 - the only other official word on the outbreak - said 53 cholera cases had been confirmed and that the outbreak was "under control." There was no explanation for the conflicting numbers, although it's possible that the number 53 referred to cases in the southeastern region, not just Granma.
Batista also noted the number of suspected cases in Granma rose from 332 to 346, and more general cases of diarrhea and vomiting rose from 3,422 to 3,998, Marquez said.
Most of the cases have been recorded in Manzanillo and the provincial capital, Bayamo, as well as nearby municipalities of Niquero, Yara and Bartolome Maso, Batista said. All are along Cuba's southern coast, about 415 miles east of Havana.
Batista said the death toll remained at three - the same number the government reported on July 3. Bayamo dissident Yoandris Montoya said he had heard reports of five deaths and Marquez put it at about 10. Havana dissident Calixto Martinez has reported about 15.
Police continued a a heavy security presence at area hospitals and relatives were not allowed to visit patients with cholera, Marquez said. He was fired from his public health job after he began speaking out against the government and his wife, Tania de la Torre, became a human rights activist.
Cholera was declared eradicated in Cuba no later than the early 1900s, but an ongoing outbreak in neighboring Haiti has killed more than 7,400 people and scores of Cuban doctors have worked there. A Florida woman and others in the Dominican Republic who visited Haiti came down with cholera in 2010 but survived.
Cholera is generally not fatal but can kill in a matter of hours when the diarrhea and vomiting cause dehydration, especially among the elderly. The three dead confirmed by the Cuban government were 60 or older.