Cholera is an infection of the small intestines caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Although cholera may be life-threatening, prevention of the disease is normally straightforward if proper sanitation practices are followed. In developed countries, due to nearly universal advanced water treatment and sanitation practices, cholera is no longer a major health threat. In the United States, cholera was prevalent in the 1800s but has been virtually eliminated by modern sewage and water treatment systems. However, as a result of improved transportation, more persons from the United States travel to parts of Africa, Asia, or Latin America where epidemic cholera is occurring.
Cholera has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days, and produces an enterotoxin that causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients. The severity of the diarrhea and vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Primary treatment is with oral or intravenous re-hydration solutions. Antibiotics may be beneficial, and in certain cases, are used. Cholera is a major cause of death in the world.
Any infected water and any foods washed in the water, as well as shellfish living in the affected waterway, can cause an infection. Cholera is rarely spread directly from person to person.
Recent epidemiologic research suggests that an individual's susceptibility to cholera (and other diarrheal infections) is affected by their blood type: those with type O blood are the most susceptible, while those with type AB are the most resistant. Between these two extremes are the A and B blood types, with type A being more resistant than type B.
Symptoms of Cholera:
The primary symptoms of cholera are profuse diarrhea, severe dehydration, abdominal pain and fever. Cholera may also cause vomiting. These symptoms start suddenly, usually one to five days after infection, and are the result of a toxin produced by the vibrio cholerae bacterium that compels profuse amounts of fluid from the blood supply into the small and large intestines. An untreated cholera patient may produce around 10 liters of diarrheal fluid a day.
In most cases cholera can be successfully treated with oral re-hydration therapy (ORT). ORT is highly effective, safe, and simple to administer: prompt replacement of water and electrolytes is the principal treatment for cholera, as dehydration and electrolyte depletion occur rapidly. In situations where commercially produced ORT sachets are too expensive or difficult to obtain, alternative homemade solutions using various formulas of water, sugar, table salt, baking soda, and fruit offer less expensive methods of electrolyte repletion. In severe cholera cases with significant dehydration, the administration of intravenous re-hydration solutions may be necessary.