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Officials offer tips for travelers wary about contracting cholera

By Deborah Kotz and Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / January 29, 2011

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With two Massachusetts residents diagnosed with cholera and four others suspected of having it, travelers may be wondering whether it’s safe to venture to the Dominican Republic. That’s where the Massachusetts residents were infected, after traveling to a wedding.

There’s not much reason to be concerned, said Dr. Larry Madoff, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “The risk of cholera in travelers is extremely low,’’ he said.

There are, though, precautions travelers can take when visiting countries where cholera is found.

Madoff recommends eating fresh fruit only if you peel it yourself and suggests avoiding raw vegetables and undercooked shellfish. “What travel doctors tell their patients is boil it, peel it, cook it, or forget it,’’ he said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking only bottled water or boiled water cooled to room temperature in countries with cholera epidemics. The CDC also advises using sanitized water to brush your teeth, make ice, and to wash and prepare food.

Also be sure to clean food preparation areas and kitchenware with soap and sanitized water; let them dry completely before reuse.

Dr. Jordan Tappero, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC, recommended that if travelers are destined for remote parts of the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, they should take packets of oral rehydration solution, which consist of salts and sugars. It’s used to treat dehydration. Tappero also suggested that visitors to far-flung areas bring kits used for chlorinating water.

What you don’t need to do, said Madoff, is alter your travel plans to countries that have cholera. “I personally wouldn’t cancel a trip for that reason,’’ he said.

Also be alert to the development of a cholera-like illness; symptoms include watery diarrhea (that can look like cloudy rice water) and vomiting. Madoff recommends seeking medical attention immediately to avoid severe dehydration that can “kill an adult in hours.’’

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com; Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.