Cholera – Can Kill in Hours

Vibrio cholerae: The bacterium that causes cho...
Vibrio cholerae: The bacterium that causes cholera (SEM image) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days, and produces an enterotoxin that causes abundant, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients. Most persons infected with V. cholerae do not become ill, although the bacterium is present in their faeces for 7-14 days.
Causes of Cholera
Typical at-risk areas include urban slums, where basic infrastructure is not available, as well as camps for internally displaced people or refugees, where minimum requirements of clean water and sanitation are not met. Disruption of water and sanitation systems, or the displacement of populations to inadequate and overcrowded camps – can increase the risk of cholera transmission should the bacteria be present or introduced. The main reservoirs of V. cholerae are people and aquatic sources such as brackish water and estuaries, often associated with algal blooms. Recent studies indicate that global warming creates a favorable environment for the bacteria.
Symptoms of Cholera
When illness does occur, about 80-90% of episodes are of mild or moderate severity and are difficult to distinguish clinically from other types of acute diarrhea. Less than 20% of ill persons develop typical cholera with signs of moderate or severe dehydration.About 75% of people infected with V. cholerae do not develop any symptoms, although the bacteria are present in their faeces for 7–14 days after infection and are shed back into the environment, potentially infecting other people. Among people who develop symptoms, 80% have mild or moderate symptoms, while around 20% develop acute watery diarrhea with severe dehydration. Cholera is an extremely virulent disease. It affects both children and adults and can kill within hours.
Prevention from Cholera
Control the spread of the disease by providing safe water, proper sanitation and health education for improved hygiene and safe food handling practices. The provision of Safe Water and Sanitation is critical factor in reducing the impact of Cholera.
Treatment of Cholera
Cholera is an easily treatable disease. Up to 80% of people can be treated successfully through prompt administration of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS Standard Sachet). Very severely dehydrated patients require administration of intravenous fluids. Such patients also require appropriate antibiotics to diminish the duration of diarrhea, reduce the volume of rehydration fluids needed, and shorten the duration of V. cholerae excretion.
Facts and Figures
Cholera is an acute diarrhea disease that can kill within hours if left untreated.
• There are an estimated 3–5 million cholera cases and 100 000–120 000 deaths due to cholera every year.
• Up to 80% of cases can be successfully treated with Oral Rehydration Salts.
• Provision of Safe Water and Sanitation is critical in reducing the impact of cholera
Oral Cholera Vaccines are considered an additional means to control cholera, but should not replace conventional control measures.


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