Cholera is an acute and infectious diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It is a leading cause of death in developing countries and has a high case fatality rate of 20-40%. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Cholera killed around 100,000 people in 2017 alone.
The disease persists due to its ability to travel via contaminated water, food, or person-to-person contact. Cholera remains quite prevalent in regions with poor sanitary conditions and access to clean drinking water. It accounts for approximately 2% of all deaths in low-income countries but it causes up to 50% of childhood deaths there.
In some countries, such as India, it is responsible for 25% of all communicable diseases. If you are planning on traveling overseas or moving into a new area for college or work, make sure you learn about Cholera there ahead of time.
What causes cholera?
Cholera is caused by the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. This bacterium is present in warm seawater and can be found in coastal regions in low-income countries. It is a common cause of water-borne bacterial infections and is highly infectious. The bacterium is ingested via contaminated water or food with symptoms occurring within hours of infection.
The disease is a severe one and is associated with high mortality rates. In addition to being a symptom of another illness, being sick from the bacterium of cholera also can lead to dehydration. This increases the risk of death from other causes. The bacterium is present in the environment, both as water and sediment particles.
In the water, it is usually at a low level and does not cause problems for humans. However, when a person either drinks the water or ingests it, the bacterium is carried into the body. If the person continues to drink the water, the bacterium grows and produces poisonous substances that are absorbed into the bloodstream.
In most people, the bacterium causes no symptoms. However, in people who have weak immune systems, such as infants, the bacterium can cause severe dehydration, kidney damage, and death.
Risk factors of cholera
Some of the risk factors that increase your chances of getting cholera include:
Travelling to developing countries especially those that are experiencing a cholera epidemic where the disease is more common.
Being in close contact with someone who is experiencing symptoms of the disease.
Intense emotional stress can also cause an increase in your chances of getting cholera.
Signs and symptoms of cholera
The incubation period of cholera is between 2 and 6 hours. Once symptoms begin, they usually begin suddenly, lasting for a few hours.
Diarrhea - accompanied by abdominal cramps.
Vomiting - which may include blood.
Rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and swelling of the hands and feet.
Low blood pressure and dry mouth.
Diagnosis of cholera
Diagnosis of cholera is based on symptoms, the time between infection and onset of the symptoms, and the presence of the bacterium in the person’s feces. This is possible because the bacterium can be seen under a microscope. If you think you have cholera, you should drink lots of water, to dilute your stool and allow the stool to be seen.
Your doctor can check for the bacterium by examining your stool under a microscope. There is no one diagnostic test for cholera. A blood test or other test for infectious diseases will not detect cholera.
However, the doctor may recommend a test for dehydration to rule out other causes of your illness. If your doctor suspects that you have cholera, he or she will probably recommend that you visit a doctor or clinic where the infection can be properly diagnosed.
Treatment of cholera
There is no specific treatment for cholera. However, rehydration with lots of fluids is done to treat the infection. Antibiotics are not effective in treating cholera, though they may be given with rehydration fluids to kill bacteria in the gut if they enter the body through the mouth.
There are some medications that can help reduce the risk of dehydration caused by a severe case of cholera. Antibiotics given to treat the infection will also help prevent dehydration.
You may be given a rehydration medicine to help prevent your blood from becoming too concentrated. If you are severely dehydrated, you may need to be hospitalized. A person who is severely dehydrated has very low blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat.
Prolonged diarrheal syndrome (PDS) in children 5 years of age
Prolonged diarrheal syndrome (PDS) is a condition that can develop in children who have cholera. PDS may last for weeks or months. PDS can occur in any age group, but it is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15. PDS can be life-threatening, because it causes a child’s body to lose fluids very quickly. PDS is the body’s way of trying to get rid of the infection, but it can be dangerous.
There are a few ways to treat PDS in children. The most common treatment is to give the child fluids so that their body has something to absorb. Another treatment is to treat the underlying cause that makes the child sick. This would usually be a bacterial infection.
Prevention of cholera
Apart from practicing good hygiene, there are some simple measures that can help reduce your chances of getting cholera.
Avoid drinking from poorly maintained water sources or entering water that has been contaminated by human feces.
Wash your hands with soap before eating, after going to the bathroom, or if you have been in contact with someone who has cholera.
Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish, as these are most likely to be contaminated with human feces.
Avoid drinking unpasteurized dairy products such as raw milk, unpasteurized milk products such as yogurt, or raw cheese.
Avoid drinking water that has been contaminated by human feces.
Avoid swimming in dirty or partially filled swimming pools.
Cholera can be very deadly, especially to young children and infants. The best way to prevent it is to avoid taking any risks when you are in an area where the disease is common. You can also practice good hygiene when using the bathroom and drinking water.
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