What is Cholera?
Cholera is a bacterial-induced human gastrointestinal disease characterized by severe watery diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and death if untreated. Cholera continues to present public health challenges in various countries.
What Causes Cholera?
The Gram-negative bacterium Vibrio cholerae is the cause of cholera. It is primarily found in warm brackish waters and the human host is part of the V. cholerae life cycle. Infection can occur following eating or drinking contaminated food or water, and disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.
What are Cholera Symptoms?
The clinical spectrum of symptom manifestations following infection with V. cholerae ranges from asymptomatic colonization to cholera gravis. Following ingestion of contaminated food or water, the bacteria colonizes the small intestine and symptoms can appear within hours. Cholera often begins with stomach cramps and vomiting, followed by diarrhea, which may progress to fluid losses of up to 1 liter per hour. In its most severe form, the rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without prompt rehydration, death can occur within hours.
What are Trends in Cholera Epidemiology?
It is estimated that approximately 2.9 million cholera cases occur annually in 69 endemic countries. The actual global burden of cholera is unknown due to low reporting, surveillance and laboratory testing. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia still account for the majority of cholera burden. Outbreaks have been documented in disaster situations where there is disruption of water and sanitation systems or the displacement of populations into overcrowded camps and limited infrastructure.
How Can You Prevent and Treat Cholera?
Cholera requires immediate treatment, because without appropriate rehydration the disease can cause death within hours. Oral or intravenous hydration is the principal treatment for cholera. For patients with severe cholera or hospitalized patients, antibiotics are also given to reduce the course of the illness. Antibiotics are not recommended for mild or moderate cholera, and resistance to multiple classes of antibiotics has been reported. Risk of infection may be reduced by drinking bottled water and avoiding the consumption of ice, fruits, vegetables and raw or undercooked foods; however this still does not guarantee full prevention. Vaccines have been developed to help prevent cholera and availability varies by geography.