Q. My wife and I are considering taking a trip to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic, but news of the cholera outbreak in Haiti is giving us pause. What do you think?
A. I understand your concern, since the Dominican Republic is Haiti's sole neighbor on the island of Hispaniola.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reports that as of last week, there were 109,196 cumulative cases of cholera in Haiti and 38 in the Dominican Republic. Despite those numbers, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of State have not issued a warning against travel to the Dominican Republic. (The State Department has issued a stern warning against travel to Haiti, though the wording dwells much more heavily on the violence than the cholera outbreak in the country .) A look at an outbreak map of Hispaniola on the PAHO website shows a stark reality: The reds and brown indicating cholera cases nearly cover Haiti; across the borderline, the map is clean. (To see the map, go to http://new.paho.org, click on "Haiti" and look for the link to the interactive map in the right-hand column).
Cholera — an intestinal infection that causes diarrhea and vomiting and can lead to severe dehydration — sounds scary because it leads to death in people who are not promptly and properly treated. That, sadly, is often the case in poor countries such as Haiti.
In developed countries such as the Dominican Republic, safe water and sanitation infrastructures help keep the disease at bay.
According to the CDC website (www.cdc.gov), travelers to the Dominican Republic are not at high risk for getting the disease. Still, it suggests that travelers there "should exercise caution to avoid getting sick." It suggests traveling with a health kit, which includes a prescription antibiotic to take in case of travelers' diarrhea, water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts. It also says that travelers can prevent cholera by following these steps: Drink and use safe water; opt for bottled water and boil or treat water used for food preparation, kitchen clean-up and brushing teeth. Wash hands often with soap and safe water. Use toilets; do not defecate in any body of water. Cook food well (especially seafood), keep it covered, eat it hot and peel fruits and vegetables. Clean up safely-in the kitchen and in places where the family bathes and washes clothes.
The Dominican Republic's Health Ministry has implemented public education and disease prevention. No doubt resorts in the country will be doing everything in their power to keep travelers healthy. The health of their businesses depends upon it.