Cholera is a bacterial illness that causes watery stools (rice water stools) that can eventually lead to dehydration and death if not treated. Even one case of cholera in a community is a problem because it spreads very rapidly. Cholera is mainly a disease of developing countries mostly in Asia and Africa.
The symptoms of cholera start between a few hours to 5 days after infection. Although not everyone infected with cholera will show signs, all infected people can spread the disease. Cholera can cause the following symptoms in affected people:
- Watery diarrhoea.
- Dry mouth, nose and eyes.
- Abnormal heartbeat and dizziness.
Cholera is a disease due to infection by a bacteria called vibrio cholerae. You can get these bacteria from food or drinks, and it is common in places with dirty water or poor sanitation.
People who belong to the following groups have a high chance of getting cholera:
- People with poor hygienic practices. These practices include not washing their hands regularly or eating fruits and vegetables without cleaning them.
- People who live in places with poor water supply like villages, IDP camps and war-torn areas.
- Eating raw or uncooked food, especially seafood like fish.
- Those who do not take care of their environment. This includes not cleaning their water reservoirs regularly or keeping them open.
- Living with people who have cholera.
- People with low stomach acids. This is common in old people and those using antacids like mistmag and omeprazole.
The following are signs that you need to get to the hospital as soon as possible:
- Seizures, loss of consciousness and confusion.
- Weakness or inability to stand.
- Little or no urine.
You can prevent cholera by avoiding the risk factors and doing the following:
- Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially before preparing food and after using the toilet.
- Clean fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. Avoid eating raw meats and seafood.
- Get the cholera vaccine, especially if you live in areas where cholera is common like refugee or IDP camps. Travellers to affected areas should also get vaccinated. The vaccine is available on request from health centres.
- Disinfect your water by boiling it or filtering it.
- You should report every suspected case to the health authorities so that they can get tested alongside their entire household.
Even though you should report all cases of cholera, you can treat this illness at home if the symptoms are mild.
- Drink a lot of water to replace what you are losing.
- Take oral rehydration salt (ORS) to replace the minerals you lose while vomiting and stooling. Mix one sachet of ORS with one litre of clean water (preferably bottled water). You may need 5-6 of these bottles on the first day. This amount should reduce over the next few days.
- Clean your hands regularly, and avoid preparing food for people while treating this disease.
- Take zinc supplements. Zinc supplements reduce the duration of diarrhoea, especially among children.
Treatment of cholera involves rehydration and replacement of lost nutrients. Your healthcare provider may offer one or more of the following:
- Intravenous fluids to help restore the fluids and nutrients you have lost.
- Antibiotics to treat the infection.
- Electrolyte therapy.
Although cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, several lives are lost yearly due to lack of prevention and treatment. It is essential to be vigilant and notice the symptoms early so you can seek timely help. People with diarrhoea or vomiting should not partake in cooking or packaging food and food items. Encourage the people around you to practise proper handwashing and sanitation to prevent cholera and to maintain good health.