In the 1880s, cholera outbreaks were very common in the United States. During those years, water and sewage treatments were still very poor that these were unable to eliminate the spread of contaminated water. Today, there are still many cases of cholera in other parts of the world. Worldwide, it affects about 3 to 5 million people, killing 100,000 annually. It's more prevalent in developing countries, where people suffer from poor sanitation, crowded living conditions, war, and famine. These include countries in Africa, Latin America, and South Asia.
Causes of Cholera
This infectious disease is caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the bacteria called Vibrio cholerae.
Common sources of contaminated food and water include:
- municipal water supplies
- raw or undercooked seafood
- food and drinks from street vendors
- ice made from water coming from municipal sources
- crops raised with water infected with human wastes
When a person eats or drinks food and water that are contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, it releases a toxin in the intestine that triggers severe diarrhea. Close contact with an infected person will not give you cholera because it's not a contagious disease.
Symptoms of Cholera
The symptoms may appear as quickly as a few hours after infection. But sometimes, it may take as long as five days. Most symptoms of cholera are mild.
Only one in 20 infected people experience severe symptoms such as:
- severe watery diarrhea
Other common signs and symptoms of this bacterial infection are:
- muscle cramps
- rapid heart rate
- low blood pressure
- dry mucous membranes inside the mouth, throat, nose and eyelids
- loss of skin elasticity (meaning, the skin is not able to return to original position quickly after being pinched)
- shock and death:
If not treated immediately, it can also lead to dehydration or even shock and death after a few hours.
Treatment of Cholera
Treatment depends on the severity of the diarrhea.
- Often, it would consist of oral or intravenous solutions to serve as replacement for lost fluids. This way, fatal dehydration can be prevented.
- Antibiotics are also commonly prescribed to kill the bacteria and end the diarrhea.
Prevention of Cholera
There is a vaccine against this bacterial infection but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) do not recommend this as it doesn't give strong and long-term protection. The better way to guard yourself against this disease is to boil and disinfect water used for:
- making ice
- brushing teeth
- washing utensils
- washing face and hands
- preparing food and beverages
- washing fruits and vegetables
Disinfect your own water by boiling or filtering it.
It's also a must to avoid raw foods such as:
- unpeeled fruits and vegetables
- unpasteurized milk and milk products
- raw or undercooked meat, fish and shellfish
If you develop diarrhea and vomiting after eating any food, seek medical help right away.