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Cholera – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Pictures

Cholera is a bacterial infection characterized by severe diarrhea which may then result in dehydration.  It can be acquired upon eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Individuals who are afflicted by the illness will feel the symptoms within 1 to 2 days after being infected, with the sudden onset of profuse smelly, rice water-like diarrhea. The disease aggravates in no time causing vomiting, increased heart rate, dry mouth and low blood pressure. Death may occur due dehydration if treatment is delayed.

Prognosis is better if the problem is addressed promptly. Treatment is aimed at replacing the lost fluid through IV or oral therapy. Antibiotics are also given when severe infection occurs. However, those who have other existing health problems aside from cholera have poorer chances of recovery.

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It is best to take the necessary steps to avoid catching the bacterium by frequent hand washing, boiling the drinking water and avoiding undercooked or raw foods. If possible, postponement of visits or travel to recently afflicted areas should be done.

Causes of Cholera

People won’t catch the disease through casual contact but by means of eating and drinking foods and beverages contaminated by the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Vibrio cholerae produces a very powerful toxin that attaches onto the wall of the small intestines and disrupts the flow of chloride and sodium, thus, causing huge amounts of water to be released from the body. Fluids and electrolytes are also drawn out from the blood resulting in severe dehydration. The bacterium is naturally present in coastal waters and rivers. It is also found in the stool of infected people.

A person can catch the disease in two ways:

  • Consuming contaminated food

The cholera bacteria flourish in stagnant water, so foods that had been produced in such areas are likely carriers of the bacteria. Seafood is notorious for causing this waterborne disease especially when eaten raw or undercooked. Grains, fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated by V. cholerae and cause infection.

  • Drinking contaminated water

The majority of cholera infection occurs when the water system is contaminated with stools from an infected person or persons. This usually happens in very crowded areas in which safe drinking water is inaccessible.  In such cases, the spread of the disease is very rapid.

Statisics of Cholera

Cholera has long been a health concern in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In comparison, the disease is remarkably rare in industrialized countries like the U.S. Statistics have shown that around 3 to 5 million people around the globe are stricken with cholera, and among these, 100,000 to 120,000 die every year. The condition affects more children than adults and is more rampant in the fall and summer. In stark contrast, the problem only affects 0 to 5 people in the U.S. every year, and mostly due to food contamination.

Some people have an increased risk of getting afflicted by the disease because:

  • They are living with an infected person

The disease may not spread through direct contact but if the water source or food is contaminated by the stool of the infected person, then everyone in the family is at risk of getting the disease.

  • They dwell in crowded and unhygienic living conditions

This waterborne disease is a very common concern especially in refugee camps and evacuation centers following a war, famine or natural disaster. In addition, this has been a long overdue problem in poor and developing countries.

  • Their stomach acids are remarkably low

Stomach acids aid in fighting cholera infection, so if a person does not have enough of these gastric acids, his or her protection is greatly reduced, such as in the case of children and older people. The use of H-2 blockers and antacids, which lower stomach acids, can increase the risk of contracting cholera.

  • They are fond of eating raw foods, especially seafood

Bacteria easily contaminate seafood as well as fruits and vegetables that are grown or washed with contaminated water.

Symptoms of Cholera

Many of those infected by Vibrio cholerae show mild to no symptoms at all. However, the symptoms are severe to individuals who have weakened immunity. The disease causes watery stool, resembling rice water in which flecks of rice grain-like mucus are seen. Muscle cramps, vomiting, irritability, restlessness, rapid heart rate and low blood pressure are manifested too. Severe dehydration caused by watery diarrhea will dry out the mucus membranes and wrinkle the hands because the skin’s elasticity is lost. Death may occur within hours, due to either dehydration, shock or kidney failure, if treatment is delayed.

Treatment of Cholera

People who receive timely treatment either through oral rehydration or IV fluids will do better and fully recover. In addition, antibiotics are administrated to prevent the disease from aggravating. Zinc supplements are sometimes given to shorten the duration of the symptoms especially among children. Cholera can be prevented with proper hygiene, drinking clean and safe water and eating only hot and properly cooked foods.

Cholera Pictures

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