LOS ANGELES -- The number of passengers from an Aerolineas Argentinas flight from South America showing symptoms of cholera grew to 23 yesterday, ands health officials worked furiously to locate other passengers to limit the repercussions of the disease.
Nearly half of the 52 passengers contacted thus far in Los Angeles County have shown symptoms of the disease in the current outbreak, which is known to have killed one and infected five others, local health officials said.
There were 336 people aboard last Friday's Flight 386 from Buenos Aires and Lima, Peru, to Los Angeles. The high incidence of symptoms in those contacted so far could mean even greater numbers have been afflicted with the disease, officials fear.
"We have to presume that something on this plane -- food or water -- caused this exposure," said Dr. Shirley Fannin, director of disease control for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "We have to find out what went wrong."
The infection -- which normally is spread through food and water contaminated with human waste -- has killed almost 3,000 in Peru since an epidemic began there a year ago. Health officials said the outbreak here poses little threat to the public at large, but people living with those who have the disease are at risk.
Dr. Fannin stressed that cholera can be treated effectively if diagnosed quickly. But if left untreated, "the time from onset of symptoms to demise can be only a few hours. It's hardest on those who are most fragile -- young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses."
The only fatality confirmed thus far is 70-year-old Anibal Cufre, who was admitted to an Arcadia, Calif., hospital Sunday and died Tuesday.
Dr. Fannin said that since the outbreak among the flight's passengers was confirmed Wednesday, health officials here and overseas have been working around the clock to find those who are infected.
Customs documents show that 320 of the 366 aboard the plane disembarked at Los Angeles International Airport. Of the 320, 211 listed final destinations in Los Angeles County.