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The Cholera Survival Guide

The Cholera Survival Guide

Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration and even death if care is not taken. It is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with a bacterium called Vibrio cholerae. It may seem like a rather simple disease but if care is not taken it can easily take lives as the condition can easily be mistook for a minor case of food poisoning at the beginning.

The disease is most common in places with poor sanitation practices, crowding, war, and some cases famine. Common locations include parts of Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Knowing the following cholera facts this guide will equip you with can help protect you and everyone else.

Ghana has seen outbreaks of the disease since the 1970s. A total of 9,542 cholera cases with 100 deaths were reported in Ghana in 2012, but no deaths were recorded in 2013, despite some reported cases of the disease in the country. In 2011, 10,628 cholera cases with 105 deaths were reported. Between 1970 and 2012, Ghana recorded a total of 5,498 cholera deaths, according to data compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to the statistics, 1,546 deaths were recorded between 1970 and 1980 while 2,258 deaths were recorded between 1981 and 1990. Between 1991 and 1999, cholera claimed 1,067 lives, and between 2000 and 2012, 627 deaths were recorded. This image below shows a graph of reported cases reported from 1982 till date.

Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera, is usually found in food or water contaminated by faeces from a person with the infection. Common sources include:

  • Untreated Water supplies
  • Foods and drinks sold by street vendors
  • Vegetables grown with water containing human wastes
  • Raw or undercooked fish and seafood caught in waters polluted with sewage

When a person consumes the contaminated food or water, the bacteria release a toxin in the intestines that produces severe diarrhoea. This is the principal symptom associated with cholera and can begin as soon as a few hours or as long as five days after infection. Most often it begins with mild symptoms which can sometimes get very serious very quickly. About one in 20 people infected have severe watery diarrhoea accompanied by vomiting, which can quickly lead to dehydration if not controlled. Although many infected people may have minimal or no symptoms, they can still contribute to spread of the infection.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Dry mucous membranes, including the inside of the mouth, throat, nose, and eyelids
  • Low blood pressure
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps

If left untreated, dehydration can lead to shock and death in a matter of hours.

Cholera Treatment and Prevention

  • If you ever find yourself in the midst of a cholera epidemic, you should also avoid raw foods such as unpeeled fruits and vegetables, unpasteurized milk and milk products, raw or undercooked meat or shellfish (sushi is a no no), Fish caught in tropical reefs, which may be contaminated.
  • Although there is a vaccine against cholera, the Centre for Disease Control(CDC) and World Health Organization don’t normally recommend its use because it has a success rate of about 50% and lasts only a few months. However, you can protect yourself by using only water that has been boiled, chemically disinfected, or bottled. Water which is free from infection should therefore be used in all activities that involve food handling and could led to ingestion of the water. Where such clean water is not available, there are ways to disinfect and purify your own water. This can be done by briefly boiling the water or filtering it then adding two drops of bleach or one-half of an iodine tablet per liter of water.
  • If all else fails and you happen to develop severe, watery diarrhoea and vomiting, particularly after eating raw shellfish or traveling to a country where cholera is epidemic, seek medical help immediately. Cholera is highly treatable, but because dehydration can happen quickly, it’s important to get cholera treatment right away.
  • Hydration is the mainstay of treatment for cholera. Depending on how severe the diarrhoea is, treatment will consist of oral or intravenous solutions to replace lost fluids. Antibiotics, which kill the bacteria, are not part of emergency treatment.  They reduce the duration of diarrhoea by half and also reduce the excretion of the bacteria, thus helping to prevent the spread of the disease.

Observe good hygiene and make sure you eat good and healthy food. In addition, wash and sanitize your hands always. I believe it is highly possible for cholera to be expunged from the world and the right practices observed. We’ll definitely be heading towards a cholera-free planet in no time.

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