Cholera Outbreak: A Global Health Threat

Creating awareness and building resilience against cholera.
Cholera bacteria [Dreams time stock photos]
Cholera bacteria Dreams time stock photos

Cholera is a serious bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration. 

While it may not be a common concern in first world countries with robust sanitation systems, the risk of cholera infection is significantly higher in areas with poor sanitation and limited access to clean water. This highlights the social determinants of health, where poverty and a lack of infrastructure create an environment ripe for cholera outbreaks. 

Also, disasters like floods and overcrowding can further exacerbate the problem by disrupting sanitation systems and contaminating water sources.

This article will delve deeper into what causes cholera, the symptoms of cholera, how it spreads, and how we can prevent its spread.

Causes of cholera 

It is crucial to note that understanding the cause of cholera is necessary for preventing its spread and protecting vulnerable populations.

The Culprit: Vibrio cholerae

Cholera is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. This comma-shaped bacterium thrives in warm, brackish (slightly salty) water and is often found in coastal environments polluted with human waste. When someone ingests contaminated water or food, the bacteria infect the small intestine, releasing toxins that disrupt the body's ability to absorb fluids.

Note: not every individual who ingests Vibrio cholerae bacteria will develop cholera. Some people may carry the bacteria without experiencing any symptoms at all. However, they can still shed the bacteria in their stool, potentially infecting others. This underscores the importance of proper sanitation to prevent the spread of the disease, even among asymptomatic carriers.

Symptoms of cholera 

Cholera can manifest in a range of ways. While some infected people may not experience any symptoms, others can develop diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and dehydration (rapid loss of fluids). However, dehydration is the most dangerous aspect of cholera. In severe cases, it can lead to shock and even death within hours if left untreated.

Transmission

Cholera is primarily transmitted through the faecal-oral route. This entails that contaminated faeces from an infected person can find their way into water sources or food, infecting others who consume them. Common sources of contamination include:

  • Contaminated drinking water

  • Untreated sewage

  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables

  • Raw or undercooked seafood from polluted waters

Preventing the Spread

Cholera is a preventable disease. The following are some important measures to keep yourself and your community safe:

  • Access to clean drinking water: This is the most critical factor in preventing the spread of cholera. Ensure you have access to clean, safe drinking water. If you are unsure about the sources, do the following:

By boiling it for at least one minute before consumption (three minutes at higher altitudes), it effectively kills Vibrio cholerae.

You can decide how to treat it. Use water purification tablets or chlorine drops according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Bottle it. Opt for commercially bottled water with a sealed cap to minimise the risk of contamination.

Also, beware of ice. Avoid ice made with unknown water sources, as it can harbour bacteria.

  • Proper Sanitation: Proper sanitation practices are essential for preventing cholera outbreaks in communities. Also, adequate sewage disposal systems are vital to prevent contamination of water sources. Always use toilets or properly constructed latrines to prevent faecal contamination of the environment. Similarly, diaper waste should be disposed of in sealed containers to prevent the spread of bacteria.

  • Good hygiene: Practice good hygiene habits like frequent handwashing with soap, especially after using the toilet, before preparing food, and after contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.

  • Safe Food Handling: Cook food thoroughly, especially seafood caught in potentially polluted waters. Wash, peel fruits, and vegetables carefully if unsure about the water used for washing. Avoid raw or undercooked seafood. Vibrio cholerae can reside in shellfish harvested from polluted waters. Beware of street vendors. Exercise caution with street food, especially if hygiene standards are questionable.

  • Vaccination: While not foolproof, cholera vaccines can offer some protection against the disease, especially for travellers visiting high-risk areas. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if vaccination is recommended for your travel plans.

Remember: By adhering to these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce your risk of contracting cholera. Stay vigilant, practice good hygiene, and make informed choices about food and water sources to safeguard your health during travel or in high-risk areas. Together, we can prevent the spread of cholera and protect vulnerable communities worldwide.

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