What is Cholera?
Cholera is a bacterial infection characterised by severe diarrhoea and dehydration and if left untreated, could prove fatal to the infected person. Caused by a bacterium that usually spreads through contaminated water, Cholera is very easily curable with inexpensive antibiotics and rehydration therapy. However, in some cases, emergency care may be required. The disease was very common across the world in the 1800s. Now, with the improvement of sanitation and water treatment the disease is now virtually non-existent in most developed countries but is still a major problem in regions without access to proper sanitation like some parts of India The World Health Organisation has estimated that there are up to 4 million cases of Cholera every year across the world despite its easy elimination through adequate hygiene and water treatment.
A majority of those who come in contact with the Cholera bacteria may not exhibit any symptoms or exhibit very mild symptoms that may not be indicative of an infection.
The Signs and Symptoms of Cholera that are usually observed are listed below.
- Diarrhoea: The infection affects the small intestine and causes severe, watery diarrhoea that is very sudden. It may have a milky colour due to the infection.
- Vomiting: Usually observed in the early stages of infection, Cholera may also cause abdominal discomfort and vomiting.
- Nausea: Nausea due to digestive distress is a common symptom.
- Dehydration: Dehydration occurs due to the rapid loss of fluids through diarrhoea and if severe, can lead to rapid weight loss and even muscle cramps and seizures that require immediate emergency care.
These Cholera symptoms could develop and worsen rapidly, and it is extremely crucial to seek medical attention at the earliest.
Who is at Risk?
The Risk Factors of Cholera are largely related to the quality environment in which one resides. The following are some factors that could increase the risk of contracting a Cholera infection.
- Lack of access to Sanitation: in regions and localities where there are inadequate sanitation facilities like home toilets and sewage treatment, the risks of Cholera increase manifold.
- Domestic Exposure: if a family member or a person in the household is infected, the risk of infection increases significantly.
- Blood Type: Those with Type O Blood, for reasons that are yet unknown, are twice as likely to contract Cholera as those with other blood types.
- Seafood from waters that contain bacteria: seafood like shellfish if consumed under-cooked could greatly increase the risk of infection.
Cholera is caused by the Vibrio Cholerae bacterium that is ingested by consuming food or water that is contaminated by the stool of an infected person. The bacterium has several different groups, only a few of which lead to varied Types of Cholera that differ in intensity and severity. Cholera affects the small intestine and leads to the production of a toxin that causes severe diarrhoea and loss of electrolytes from the body.
Not all people who are infected fall ill and most may be asymptomatic, but they continue to get rid of the bacteria in their stool and could contaminate food or water supplies. In regions with poor sanitation, contaminated water is the main source of infection, especially in cases where surface and underground water is used for household and drinking purposes.
How is Cholera Diagnosed?
The Diagnosis of Cholera is usually made based on the symptoms. When the symptoms of Cholera get severe, they definitively point to infection and are very hard to confuse with symptoms of other conditions.
- Stool test: The only way to absolutely say for sure if a person is infected with Cholera is by testing a stool sample and confirming the presence of the bacteria.
- Rapid test kits: The modern technological advancements in medicine have led to the development of different rapid Diagnostic tests for Cholera that allow Gastroenterologists to use dipsticks to identify infection in just minutes.
How Is Cholera Treated?
Treatment for Cholera is essential in cases where infection causes illness as the disease could prove fatal within hours if left untreated. The immediate treatment plan is usually common in all cases and includes the following.
- Oral Rehydration: in most cases, oral rehydration salts (ORS) are sufficient to restore lost fluids and essential electrolytes. Without rehydration, almost 50% of all Cholera cases prove to be fatal.
- IV Fluid Therapy: If oral administration is insufficient, the intravenous administration of fluids is essential to rehydrate the patient.
- Antibiotics: In cases where severe illness is caused, antibiotics may be administered to alleviate symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.
- Zinc Supplements: Zinc is capable of alleviating diarrhoea symptoms and preventing episodes in the future and is especially recommended for children under the age of 5.
Cholera treatment is easy and inexpensive if prompt medical attention is given to the infected person. If prompt rehydration therapy is made available, the fatality rates are very low at less than 1%.
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How can Cholera be prevented?
Cholera Prevention is relatively easy to accomplish by following appropriate hygiene and avoiding unclean water and food.
- Wash hands regularly: Washing hands with soap and clean water, especially after using the washroom and before eating greatly reduces the risk of Cholera.
- Drink clean water: Do not consume water that is not bottled or not boiled in your presence. Purified drinking water is the best option.
- Avoid uncooked food: Eliminate raw vegetables and foods like sushi from your diet to minimise risks of Cholera.
- Cholera vaccines are now available across the world and are administered to those in high-risk environments. These vaccines are incredibly effective in protecting those who are exposed to bacteria and can prevent infection. They are completely safe, and several types of vaccines are approved by the World Health Organisation for use in both children and adults.