- In spite of world-wide efforts to eradicate this disease, cholera continues to kill close to 100,00 individuals each and every year. The black dots represent cases of cholera that have been imported into a country from another area, indicating that, even those in highly developed areas are not safe from this terrible disease. Whenever poverty, war, or natural disaster interrupts the natural order, people tend to be crowded together in less than sanitary conditions. It is then that cholera strikes, killing even perfectly healthy individuals in a matter of days.
Whenever we assist in international efforts to end poverty, and ensure that all people are properly fed and provided with pure drinking water, we are not only helping others, but ensuring that we at home are protected from disease and death.
Cholera is a disease caused by bacteria, which has made its way from an infected person into water of food. Once the contaminated water or food is ingested, the bacteria quickly multiplies in the intestine and symptoms follow rapidly.
The main symptom of cholera is extreme diarrhea, often called rice-water diarrhea because of the white mucous like flecks present. If not treated immediately, cramps and vomiting will occur. Dehydration follows rapidly, and it is this extreme dehydration that can kill. It is the young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems that are most likely to succumb to the disease.
If cholera is identified early, and medical attention is readily available, victims of cholera can be quickly re-hydrated with fluids containing essential glucose and electrolytes. Unfortunately, if the disease strikes in crowded, unsanitary conditions, it is unlikely adequate medical attention is readily available, and hence epidemics can occur.
In highly developed parts of the world, cholera victims have an excellent chance of recovery, largely due to modern medical facilities, and readily available supplies of clean, pure water. Even in the case of natural catastrophes, these countries have the ability to rapidly transport needed support and supplies to affected areas, so deaths are kept to a minimum.
In underdeveloped parts of the world, cholera often gains a foothold before it is recognized, and long before adequate help can arrive.
Those who work or travel in undeveloped areas are constantly in danger of contracting cholera.
Simple precautions can protect you. If possible avoid areas known to have active cases of cholera. Wash your hands often with warm soapy water, especially before eating or preparing food. Remember, sing the happy birthday song twice while soaping, to be sure you are doing an adequate job. Avoid eating food from street vendors. Drink only bottled water, and wipe the mouth of the bottle before each use. Use only bottled water to brush your teeth. Avoid accidentally drinking water while showering. Eat only hot foods. Avoid salads and fruit that you have not washed yourself in bottled water. Avoid all seafood.
We joke about traveler’s diarrhea and Montezuma’s revenge, but it is no laughing matter. If your diarrhea is severe, seek medical attention immediately.
There is a vaccine for cholera that offers varying degrees of protection for up to two years. This vaccine is not available in the United States.