Venezuelan health authorities appealed Thursday to more than 400 people exposed to cholera at a wedding in the Dominican Republic to report for treatment in order to head off an epidemic.
So far, 37 people have been treated for cholera in Venezuela but authorities were still trying to locate the rest of the 452 people who traveled to the Dominican Republic for the January 22 wedding.
"For us it's important, indispensable, that everyone who attended this event cooperate," said Health Minister Eugenia Sader at a news conference.
"We ask them to seek treatment because they may not have symptoms but might be carriers of the bacteria. It's in your hands to keep Venezuela from having an epidemic," she said.
Sader said Venezuela has had no cholera in a decade, and health officials have emphasized that it was crucial to gain control of the outbreak in the first 24 to 48 hours to prevent the imported bacteria from becoming established here.
Besides the 37 cholera patients in Caracas, 12 Venezuelans infected with the bacteria were still in the Dominican Republic and four others traveled on to Spain, Mexico and the United States.
Though treatable, the disease can strike swiftly, causing intense diarrhea, vomiting and nausea that leads to severe dehydration and possibly death.
The cholera bacteria was believed to have been transmitted in contaminated food served at the wedding.
The Dominican Republic shares a porous border with Haiti, where more than 4,000 people have died and 209,000 have been infected in a cholera epidemic since October.
Only one person is reported to have died of cholera in the Dominican Republic, which said this week that 238 people had been infected.
At Venezuela's international airport, authorities have been monitoring the entry of passengers, asking them to fill out questionnaires.
It also has activated a phone number that can be used to seek assistance and make contact with people who may be infected with the virus.
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