Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestines caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. The bacterium produces a toxin that causes watery stools that resemble rice water. If left untreated, cholera can be deadly within a few hours.
It is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. It is transmitted to humans by eating food or drinking water contaminated with human waste from persons infected by the bacteria.
Cholera typically presents with:
• Sudden onset of frequent painless, watery stools;
• Low-grade fever;
• Rapid dehydration (e.g., sunken eyeballs, wrinkled and dry skin).
The fastest intervention for individuals with cholera is to replace their lost body fluid. This is done by giving oral rehydration solution (ORS) or a homemade solution composed of 1 teaspoon of salt and 4 teaspoons of sugar mixed in 1 liter of water. These individuals must be closely monitored to see if their dehydration worsens. Those with severe dehydration are advised to be given antibiotics as well.
Personal hygiene measures are necessary to help prevent infection:
• Drink only safe and clean water. If unsure, boil drinking water (upon reaching boiling point, extend boiling for 3 or more minutes) or do water chlorination.
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating and after using the toilet.
• Wash and cook food properly, and keep it away from insects and rats by properly storing or covering it.
• Dispose of human waste properly.
• Keep surroundings clean, especially nearby drinking water sources.
An oral cholera vaccine is also available for travelers and people in endemic areas. It is given in two doses and offers protection for 3 years. The use of the oral cholera vaccine shall be considered as necessary during outbreaks only after a thorough investigation of the outbreak.