Over one hundred thousand people die every year from cholera. Although it is seldom seen in the industrialized world, areas that lack adequate water and sewage treatment, are prone to periodic outbreaks of this dreadful disease. Cholera is most likely to occur when war, famine, or natural disasters find masses of individuals living in close quarters, with little in the way of basic facilities.
Cholera is a contagious disease, that, if left untreated, can kill in a matter of hours. The very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk.
We generally assume that cholera is always caused by drinking water that had been contaminated by bacteria. This is not always the case. Cholera can also be caused by eating raw seafood, especially oysters, that have been contaminated by the bacteria which can occur naturally in sea water. Even uncooked, or poorly washed, fruits and vegetables can become contaminated.
The main symptom of cholera is severe diarrhea, often accompanied by vomiting. The stools become fishy-smelling, milky rivers with rice-like particles, which are the cells lining the digestive organs. If treatment is not instigated at this time, and the diarrhea continues, the body becomes dehydrated. The patient will become lethargic, and suffer from extreme thirst. The urine will be scant or dry up completely. The inability to eat causes further loss of strength. As the disease progresses, the blood pressure will drop; the heartbeat will become irregular; the muscles will begin to cramp; the kidneys may fail, and the patient will go into shock.
With immediate medical attention, most individuals can survive a bout of cholera. However, those who do not receive attention will die within a matter of hours. Even when aid is sent to areas of epidemic there is so little in term of resources, that the death toll will inevitably be high.
The United States has not had a serious outbreak of cholera since 1910. The cases that are experienced here are usually in individuals who have ingested raw seafood, or have spent time in areas of infection. Nevertheless, in the event that you or a family member experiences a bout of severe diarrhea, it is important to visit you family physician immediately.
Cholera is diagnosed by examining the stool for the cholera bacteria. Diagnosis is important to ascertain if the patient has cholera, and begin appropriate treatment.
The most important treatment for cholera is re-hydration and the replacement of electrolytes. This is done by administering fluids by mouth, if possible, and, if not possible, then by intravenous injection. If re-hydration is possible, virtually all victims of cholera can be saved. Without re-hydration, most victims will die. Antibiotics may or may not be given, at the discretion of the physician.
Until all areas had adequate supplies of pure water and functioning sewage treatment plants, outbreaks of cholera will continue to occur.
You can prevent cholera from attacking you and your family by observing a few simple rules.
1. Avoid areas where cholera is known to exist.
2. Wash your hands in warm soapy water before handling food, and before eating.
3. If you are traveling in areas where sanitation facilities are less that perfect, drink only purified bottled water, and eat only cooked vegetables and fruits, unless you have washed them yourself. Avoid letting shower water get into your mouth. Brush your teeth with purified or boiled water. Do not eat dairy foods, including ices and ice cream.
4. Do not eat food from street vendors.
There is a cholera vaccine available in some countries, but not in the United States. It is not considered to be totally effective, so your health is in your hands.