One of the most infamous diseases around the world. It is very common in places where poor sanitation and water hygiene standards are seen. Let us learn more about this microbial disease.
Cholera is a bacterial disease that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. The onset of the disease is rather rapid and can lead to death, if not treated soon. The causative agent of the disease is Vibrio cholera. The disease is very rare in most industrialized countries. However, cases if any reported in these countries is only when the infected person may have travelled to cholera prone regions.
The disease has known to cause pandemics in history. The latest endemic being the one in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. However, with the modern treatment methods, this disease is easily curable . Today, cholera is fatal in 1% of people with severe cholera symptoms.
Vibrio cholerae is the bacterium that causes cholera. As this is a food and water borne disease, a person gets infected by eating or drinking infected food or water. Once the bacteria enter the body, it reaches the small intestine. Here, it starts releasing toxins that leads to accumulation of fluids in the small intestine. This is the reason for passing watery stools.
Water sources such as waterways, drinking water, groundwater, etc. contaminated with feces is the reason for passing of the cholera bacterium in healthy individuals. It can also be transmitted through unwashed and contaminated foods. Undercooked seafood or raw shellfish also lead to an infection.
Infection is very common in areas where there is overcrowding, poor living condition, natural or man-made disasters that cause lack of basic hygiene and access to clean water.
The symptoms of cholera take at least 7 to 14 days to appear after initial infection. Some of the typical symptoms of cholera are as follows:
- Rice-water like, pale watery diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dehydration due to loss of body fluids
- Low blood pressure
- Sunken eyes
- Dry mouth
- Wrinkled skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle cramps due to electrolyte imbalance
- Severe dehydration may lead to hypovolemic shock
The watery diarrhea is the classic diagnostic method for cholera. Apart from stool cultures, rapid cholera dipstick tests also help confirm diagnosis.
Treatment of cholera aims at reducing the complications such as dehydration, hypokalemia, hypoglycemia, electrolyte imbalance, etc. The treatment includes:
- Oral retention therapy (ORT) that helps overcome fluid loss. Simple glucose water or Ringer’s lactate with potassium helps in rehydrating the body.
- Intravenous fluids that help overcome severe rehydration.
- Single dose of antibiotics like azithromycin or doxycycline.
Prognosis for cholera depends on the severity of the infection as well as dehydration. If the immediate treatment protocol is followed, the risk of death is reduced greatly and the prognosis is good.
Cholera can be prevented if one follows the following precautions. These precautions are very important, especially when one is following to cholera prone countries.
- Frequent washing of hands with antiseptic soap and keeping an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at hand.
- Drink boiled water or bottled water.
- Eat only completely cooked foods and avoid eating undercooked or raw foods.
Cholera is a treatable disease, provided you seek immediate help from a doctor. If you are travelling to cholera prone areas, make sure you follow all preventive measures to avoid cholera
Date last updated: February 27, 2015