Cholera is a stomach infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The bacteria enter the human body through contaminated water and food, and cause severe diarrhoea and dehydration. The disease generally occurs in epidemics and over the years has caused thousands of deaths across the world. However, measures like proper sanitisation and provision of pure drinking water have contributed a lot to lowering the number of cholera patients. In fact, there are hardly any cases of cholera in the developed world.
The disease is caused by eating contaminated food or polluted drinking water. People infected with this bacteria often have loose stool – also referred to as ‘rice water’ stools, and if these stools contaminate water or food consumed by others, the bacteria get transmitted to a healthy person. It is only on rare occasions that the bacteria are spread directly from person to person. Poor sanitisation is the root cause for transmission of these bacteria. Therefore, people in developing countries like Africa, India, Asia, South and Central America, where a large population has no access to basic health and hygiene, continue to suffer from cholera.
After 1-5 days from consumption of the contaminated food or water, the body suddenly starts showing symptoms like severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Watery stools, a typical symptom of this illness, cause severe dehydration, as the body loses a lot of fluids in a very short time. Vomiting adds fuel to the fire and the patient feels extreme weakness. Sometimes, in extreme case, if the loss of fluid is severe, the person may even die. Rapid loss water from the body also means loss of sodium, chloride and potassium from the body, and this often results in muscle cramps.
Rice-water stools are a clear indication of the presence of Vibrio cholerae in the body. However, faecal sample may be taken and examined to confirm the diagnosis. Except in extreme conditions when cholera becomes a fatal disease, it can be successfully treated with oral hydration therapy. Lost fluids and minerals can also be replaced through intravenous hydration. Antibiotics may also be given to the patients and the risk of passing the infection to others may be reduced.
Although the number of cholera cases has reduced over the years, the disease still poses a great threat to the developing and under-developed world. Therefore, it is extremely important to take all the necessary measures to stop transmission of the bacteria that cause cholera. Developing and maintaining personal hygiene is the first step towards preventing the transmission of the bacteria. Washing hands with soap, especially before preparing and eating a meal and after using the toilet is the basic habit one must develop to ensure personal hygiene. Contaminated water is a common cause of cholera, therefore, one should avoid drinking untreated water. The traditional vaccination for cholera doesn’t give complete protection against the bacteria. It is advisable that one relies more upon drinking potable water and eating properly cooked food than on the vaccination for prevention of the disease.