We’ve all heard about cholera, but do we know what it is and how deadly it is? Here’s a rundown on this disease that can be fatal within hours without prompt medical intervention.
Cholera, plainly is acute diarrhea, and a person can catch it by eating food or drinking water where the bacteria Vibrio Cholerae is present.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), cholera still remains a global health threat in underdeveloped countries. It has been virtually eliminated in industrialized countries, but is still rampant in countries like Africa, Haiti and Southeast Asia, where natural disasters, war and poverty lead to people living in clusters with poor sanitation.
Data collected by researchers estimate there are close to 4 million infections with nearly 100,000 deaths related to cholera. Accurate figures are difficult to obtain because many cases go misdiagnosed and often unreported.
Causes of cholera:
Vibrio Cholerae produces a toxin in the small intestine, causing the body to expel large amounts of water, fluids and salts (electrolytes), which is when diarrhea starts.
Though the main source of cholera outbreaks is contaminated water due to poor sanitization, the Vibrio Cholerae is also present in:
- Well water in crowded conditions with poor sanitation facilities.
- Raw or undercooked seafood. Think of places where untreated sewage flows out into rivers or seas, and you get the picture!
- Raw fruits and vegetables where irrigation water may contain raw sewage.
- Grains like rice and millet can become contaminated after processing, and can grow the bacteria if kept at room temperature for several hours.
People who come into contact with the cholera bacteria, Vibrio Cholerae, do not show any symptoms on the outside, hence they are unaware they are infected. However, their poop will contain live bacteria from 7 up to 14 days, which can easily be passed on to others through water, in places where sanitation is poor.
It is difficult to narrow down cholera, as most cases consist of mild or moderate diarrhea. Diarrhea can also be related to other factors, e.g., food poisoning, new medication, emotional or psychological issues, etc.
The more serious cases of cholera develop within a few days of infection, and main symptoms to look out for are:
Diarrhea – often a pale, milky appearance similar to water in which rice is rinsed in.
Nausea & vomiting – this happens in the initial stages and can continue for hours at a stretch.
Dehydration – a clear indication of severe dehydration is a loss of 10 percent or more of one’s body weight. Other signs of dehydration are:
- loss of energy / severe fatigue
- low blood pressure
- irregular heart beat
- sunken eyes
- extreme thirst
- skin that doesn’t regain its shape when pinched
- hardly any urination
Dehydration can cause electrolyte imbalance; i.e., fluid imbalance the body caused by a rapid loss of minerals in your blood. This imbalance will lead to muscle cramps which can be treated; or hypovolemic shock which is serious and can be fatal in a matter of minutes.
Although severe dehydration and shock are the worst symptoms, other problems could occur with a rapid loss of body fluids, like:
- low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- low potassium levels
- kidney failure
Your risk of contracting cholera will be lessened if these precautions are followed:
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 secs or use an alcohol-based sanitizer; especially before handling food, and after using the toilet.
Drink boiled water. If you drink canned or bottled drinks, wipe the outside before pouring the drink out. Don’t add ice unless you know it is from a clean source.
Only eat food that is hot and well cooked. Make sure food from a street vendor is prepared fresh in front of you. Most street food vendors use gloves to minimize contamination, so that is something to look out for as well.
Get vaccinated. If you frequently travel, check with your doctor on a cholera vaccine and when you should take it, but do practice the above precautions as well.
Todate, the only way to confirm cholera is to analyse a stool sample for the presence of Vibrio Cholerae.
Cholera can be fatal within a matter of hours, so immediate treatment is vital.
- Rehydration – given orally or intravenously to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
- Zinc supplements – research shows zinc decreases diarrhea in children down with cholera.
You can lessen your chances of getting cholera by getting vaccinated if you travel frequently, maintaining good hygiene habits, and being mindful of what and where you eat and drink.
As usual, this article provides a simple explanation on cholera, and in no way should be used as medical advice. Please consult your doctor for in-depth information, especially on medication and supplements.
25th June 19:40