Dominican Rep. Calls Cholera Emergency Meeting

The president of the Dominican Republic called an emergency meeting with top government officials today to come up with strategies to prevent the spread of cholera.

The meeting was called a day after the country reported its first case of cholera, which has already devastated much of Haiti.

President Leonel Fernández met with the country's health, agriculture and tourism ministers, among others, according to the Dominican newspaper Listin Diario.

The paper reported the officials are considering canceling flights to parts of the island. Also, Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gómez urged locals to avoid drinking food and drinks sold on the street and said each case of diarrhea will be closely examined, the newspaper reported.

A Haitian citizen who lives near the tourist mecca of Punta Cana was the country's first confirmed case of cholera.

The man, identified as Wilmo Louwes, a 32-year-old construction worker, was being treated in a hospital in the eastern town of Higüey. Louwe was home in Haiti – which has been devastated by the disease – on vacation and returned by bus to the Dominican Republic on Nov. 12.

“We found the bus he traveled in and we took the proper steps to sanitize it,” Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gómez said in a press conference.

He also said they are running a series of tests on the man to determine what type of antibiotics he needs.

“We can assure you this patient is in perfect condition. He’s hydrated and now we’re just waiting for the results of his tests,” Rojas Gómez said.

Like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, home to 10 million people, had never had a case of cholera until this year. The country has tightened border security, stepped up health checks and cleaned up its rivers ever since the disease, spread by contaminated water, broke out in Haiti.

Sanitary conditions don’t exist in much of Haiti, and the disease has spread across the countryside and to nearly all the country's major population centers, including Port-au-Prince. There are concerns it could eventually sicken hundreds of thousands of people.

Among the Dominican initiatives has been to search homes and detain people suspected of trying to get across the border without proper documentation and who may be infected. By Tuesday they had detained 170 people, authorities said.

"This really is a serious danger," Santos Ramírez of the Dominican Medical Board told Agence France Presse. "Cholera could become a pandemic if it spreads on this side of the island. We must avoid a disaster of that scope."

The epidemic has claimed over 1,000 lives and hospitalized nearly 17,000 people so far in Haiti.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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