Cholera is an intestinal infection which is caused if a person consumes contaminated food or water. It is generally caused by the bacteria called Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period, from 1 day to 5 days.
After getting contaminated, bacteria makes an enterotoxin that causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to major dehydration and death, if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most of the patients.
The cholera bacteria are generally seen in water or food sources that have been contaminated by faeces from a person infected with cholera. Cholera is usually seen in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene.
The cholera bacterium may also live in the environment in salty rivers and coastal waters.
Causes of Cholera
Cholera is a diarrheal illness caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. This species is not common to humans, and its presence in the human digestive system is not part of the natural life cycle of the bacteria.
A person can get infected by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium.
In an epidemic, the primary source of the contamination is generally the faeces of an infected person that contaminates water or food. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.
Cholera does not transmit directly from one person to another, so having a casual contact with an infected person is not a risk for becoming ill.
Diagnosis of Cholera
Laboratory tests include stool gram stain (gram negative rods) culture, dark field microscopy or stool PCR. One must begin treatment even before diagnostic work-up.
A sample of the stool or a rectal swab is taken and is then send to a laboratory for the cholera bacterium.
Symptoms of Cholera
Cholera infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe.
Infected persons with severe disease will have:
- Profuse watery diarrhea
- Leg cramps.
In people, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. If not treated, it can lead to death within hours.
How to manage cholera?
Have plenty of fluids: It is important to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) is used to prevent dehydration. Standard home solutions like salted rice water, salted yogurt drinks, vegetable and chicken soups with salt can be given. Home remedies like water in which cereal has been cooked, unsalted soup, green coconut water, weak tea (unsweetened), and unsweetened fresh fruit juices.
Medications: Antibiotics can reduce the course and diminish the severity of the disease, but they are not as important as receiving rehydration.
To prevent cholera:
- Drink safe and clean water
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and clean water
- Proper hygiene and sanitation
- Cook food well and cover it properly
However, vaccination should not replace standard prevention and control measures.