Cholera is a disease of the intestines characterised by very frequent and very watery stools and vomiting. It has been responsible for several epidemics (affecting many people simultaneously in an area) and pandemics (affecting a whole country/ whole continent/the world. The period between infection and symptoms varies from 2 to 5 days.
Up to date, Cholera has caused seven pandemics with six occurring before 1923. Most of the six pandemics originated in India and Bangladesh. The seventh epidemic which is apparently still on started in 1961 in Indonesia spreading to South-East Asia in 1962 and the rest of Asia in the following years. In 1970, it reached Europe and some parts of Africa involving about 28 countries in the 1970s before regressing to India and Bangladesh. In 1991, the pandemic spread to South and Central America. In 1993, 80 countries reported cholera epidemics, 2003, – 45 countries with 894 deaths. The disease has drastically declined in developed countries, now mainly in developing/underdeveloped countries of Africa, south – east Asia, South and Central America. Only imported cases are reported in developed countries.
Cholera has been reported in the following African countries in the last five years Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Mali, DR Congo, Mozambique, Angola, Nigeria, Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone among others.
In 2013, 18 countries in Africa including Nigeria were affected. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates about 3-5million cholera cases are recorded in a year with about 100,000 to 120,000 deaths.
1. What Causes Cholera?
It is caused by a bacterium-Vibrio Cholerae which has about four strains.
2. How Does Cholera Spread?
Man is the reservoir of the infection. It is transmitted through water or food contaminated by the stool of an infected person directly (either sick or not, about 3 days before the onset of symptoms and up to 3-4 weeks after recovery) or indirectly by flies.
3. What Can Put You at Risk?
You are at risk if you live in a community with poor water supply and poor sanitation.
4. When Do You Suspect You May Have Cholera?
The disease is characterized by frequent vomiting and severe diarrhoea (very watery stools) not accompanied by abdominal pain. The person loses water so much and rapidly, that if the fluid lost is not replaced, the person goes into shock and dies.. According to WHO, Cholera should be suspected if:
i. A person older than 5years develops severe and acute watery diarrhoea usually with vomiting.
ii. Any person above the age of 2 years has severe watery diarrhoea in an area where there is an outbreak of cholera.
However, a case of cholera is only confirmed on finding the bacteria, Vibrio Cholerae
in the stool of the patient in a laboratory. Every case of cholera is reported by the health authorities to WHO (World Health Organization).
5. What to do if you suspect you have Cholera.
Any suspected case of cholera should be taken to hospital immediately for treatment. Death is rare if the disease is adequately treated
6. Possible Complications of Cholera.
Untreated cholera leads to severe loss of body fluid, shock and death.
Cholera can be prevented in the following ways:
a. Drinking only safe water – treated or boiled
b. Use of appropriate toilets, avoid open defeacation.
c. Food Hygiene – Cook raw food properly
– Eat cooked food immediately
-Store cooked food in refridgerators/freezer
– store cooked food in an isolated place and covered.
– Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
d. Rudimentary awareness of the disease.
e. Personal Hygiene.