Fishermen eat beans, the undernourished poor must now go without seafood, and thousands of would-be beachgoers stay home. A cholera epidemic that has claimed 115 lives has affected virtually everybody in this oceanside capital.
Seafood restaurants serve pizza, swimming pools have been drained, and on a positive note, officials are trying harder to clean up this grimy city and shut down unsanitary food vendors.The government said Tuesday that 115 Peruvians have died and 25,000 others have been treated since cholera first appeared in coastal fishing towns in late January. The epidemic is the first in the Americas since early this century.
International health officials say the outbreak is part of a pandemic that began in 1961 in Indonesia and has since spread to 98 countries. Cholera will probably spread from Peru to other South American nations, they say.
No one knows how cholera first entered Peru, one of Latin America's poorest nations. The disease causes diarrhea so severe a victim can become dehydrated within hours. It is rarely deadly if treated quickly.
Cholera is usually transmitted by food or water contaminated by infected feces. Every day the sewage of Lima's 7 million people is dumped untreated into the Pacific.
Health Minister initially declared seafood unsafe but now says well-cooked fish is safe to eat.
Peruvians remain wary.
Seafood restaurants that closed in the first days of the epidemic have since reopened. But now they serve steak, ravioli and dishes that substitute chicken or mushrooms for fish.
Martinez, the restaurateur, said many customers now ask for cuy, a type of guinea pig commonly eaten in the Peruvian Andes.
Fish stalls in Lima's central market are almost deserted, and vendors say business has fallen more than 95 percent.
Fishing boats are anchored in the harbor in suburban Callao, and fishermen have marched in downtown streets demanding that people start eating fish.
Nevertheless, many fishermen are themselves eating beans and vegetables.
The fishermen's plight has been worsened as many neighboring countries have suspended imports of Peruvian seafood.
About half of Lima's residents are undernourished. Few can afford cooking gas or kerosene to boil the water they drink, and many never buy soap.
The epidemic has led to efforts to clean up Lima, perhaps South America's filthiest city.
Last week, for the first time in vendors' memories, work crews scrubbed the streets around the central market, usually slippery with chicken blood and fish guts.
Panamerican Health Organization experts say cholera is likely to remain a threat even after the epidemic is controlled. Dysentery is already one of the most common ailments in shantytowns.
"Peruvians are very familiar with diseases that cause diarrhea," PHO epidemiologist Horacio Lores said. "Cholera is just one more."