Everything you need to know about cholera



Everything you need to know about cholera

Cholera is a disease that has decimated the lives of many people. It is a disease that is most common in areas with overpopulation and poverty, where sanitation is not easily accessible. It is rife in many third-world countries and is contracted by eating food washed in contaminated water or by drinking contaminated water. Below is everything you need to know about cholera in order to stay informed and aware.


What is the cause of cholera?

One of the most frequently asked questions about this disease is ‘What is the cause of cholera?’ Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which infects the small intestine. The infection is spread when people consume food or drink that is infected with the bacterium. The bacterium is spread to food by faeces or vomit of another person who has been infected with cholera.

The result of cholera is vomiting and diarrhoea, with severe stomach cramps being common. Cholera outbreaks are highly common in areas that are overcrowded or have been affected by a disaster that renders their sanitation facilities unusable. Contaminated food or water is found often in refugee camps and slums. It can also occur in areas that have flooded, leaving stagnant pools of contaminated water around which people walk in and out of regularly.


What are the symptoms of cholera?

As mentioned above, the main symptoms of cholera are vomiting, diarrhoea and severe stomach cramps. If left untreated, the vomiting and diarrhoea can become fatal, causing your body to become dehydrated to the extent that you are not retaining any liquids.

These symptoms may appear within hours or after up to five days, so it is important to monitor your body if you think you may have eaten contaminated food or had a drink of contaminated water. Seventy five percent of people infected with cholera do not exhibit any symptoms, and these people could spread more infection to others. Many people who are infected exhibit little to no symptoms, making it highly difficult to detect and treat.


How is cholera diagnosed?

Doctors will usually suspect a patient has cholera if they see signs of severe watery diarrhoea, vomiting, and rapid dehydration, especially if they have travelled to a place that has recently had an outbreak of the disease. For example, recently in Uganda cholera has caused a wave of death and illness.

A stool sample will be sent to a laboratory to be tested for the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, but if cholera is suspected then treatment will usually start before the results return. If you have been having mild diarrhoea or nausea for longer than a week, and have eaten unwashed food or have been in the vicinity of untreated or unsanitary water then you will need to go to a doctor as soon as possible. It may not be a simple case of indigestion or food-poisoning.


How is cholera treated?

Cholera antibiotics or oral cholera vaccines are now commonplace with doctors who treat the disease. The use of oral rehydration solutions (ORS) is also highly effective, and involve replacing the salts and fluid lost through diarrhoea.

Patients can be treated with the simple ORS mixture of sugars and salts, combined in one litre of water to be drunk in large amounts throughout the day. If it is a severe case, then doctors will use intravenous fluids to rehydrate the body. Receiving prompt medical attention and rehydration treatment is the key to saving the life of someone who has contracted even a mild form of cholera.


How can cholera be prevented?

Once the question of ‘What is the cause of cholera?’ is answered, many people want to know what can be done to prevent the spread of cholera. Preventing cholera while travelling to places that have recently had outbreaks or spending time in a rural area can be done by following the guidelines below:

  • Only eat fruit that you have peeled yourself
  • Avoid raw fish and uncooked or undercooked foods
  • Drink only bottled water that is in a fully sealed bottle from a store
  • Use safe water (preferably bottled) to brush your teeth, prepare food and make ice
  • Wash your hands often with safe water and antibacterial soap
  • Wash all dishes and cutlery thoroughly before and after use

Following these guidelines will help you to stay safe from cholera while travelling in countries that could be affected or have been affected by it.


Final thoughts

Cholera is a disease that can easily be prevented with proper sanitation and hygiene practises, but is often unavoidable in crowded areas such as slums, refugee camps and areas that have been hit by natural disaster. If you feel as though you may have symptoms of cholera, go to your doctor immediately and ask them to do a test to diagnose you. Keeping yourself hydrated and only drinking bottled water while in a cholera area are good ways to prevent the contraction of the disease.