Cholera is an infectious bacterial disease usually spread through water or food sources that have been contaminated by faeces from a person infected with cholera. When a person consumes the contaminated food or water, the bacteria release a toxin (that multiplies rapidly) in the small intestines that produces severe diarrhoea.
The incubation period (time of exposure to the bacteria to the development of symptoms) may vary from a few hours (about six to 12 hours) to five days, with the average incubation period being about two to three days.
Left untreated, cholera can be fatal in a matter of hours, even in previously healthy people.
- Diarrhoea that comes on suddenly and may quickly cause dangerous fluid loss
- Nausea and vomiting that occurs especially in the early stages of cholera, vomiting may persist for hours at a time.
- Dehydration that can develop within hours after the onset of cholera symptoms. It can range from mild to severe. A loss of 10 percent or more of total body weight indicates severe dehydration.
Common sources of cholera infection
- Surface or well water
- Cut fruits and raw vegetables
- Raw or undercooked fish and seafood caught in waters polluted with sewage
Certain factors can make you more vulnerable to the disease or more likely to experience severe signs and symptoms. These include:
1. Poor sanitary conditions
Because cholera is primarily spread through contaminated food and water, lacking access to safe water and sanitation, as well as proper waste management, can increase the chances of an outbreak happening if someone with cholera enters a particular area.
2. Reduced or nonexistent stomach acid
Cholera bacteria can’t survive in an acidic environment, and ordinary stomach acid often serves as a first line defense against infection.
Therefore, Individuals with achlorhydria (the absence of hydrochloric acid in digestive stomach juices) such as children, older adults, and people who take antacids are at greater risk of cholera.
3. Direct exposure
You are at significantly increased risk of cholera if you live with someone who has the disease, healthcare personnel treating cholera patients or visit an area that has an outbreak.
4. Eating raw or under-cooked vegetables or seafood
Vegetables can be contaminated during preparation or storage. The disease is also occasionally spread through eating raw or undercooked shellfish that are naturally contaminated.
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