Cholera is a potentially life-threatening diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholera. The cholera bacterium can be found naturally in brackish rivers (places where sea water and fresh water mix) and coastal waters.
How Cholera Spreads
Cholera can also spread quickly through food and water that have been contaminated by faeces from a person infected with cholera. In the developing world, it spreads mostly through contaminated water. This means individuals living in areas with poor water treatment and sanitation are at increased risk of cholera infection. In Malaysia, disasters such as flash floods create such a situation.
Diarrhoea Like Cloudy Rice Water
Diarrhoea, a main symptom of cholera is often described as cloudy rice water. Most of the time, cholera infections are mild or show no symptoms. However 1 in 10 (5-10%) may suffer from severe infections. These are characterised by profuse watery diarrhoea, vomiting and leg cramps.
Without immediate treatment, this can lead to rapid loss of body fluids, severe dehydration, shock and even death within a few hours. Severe disease forms can take anywhere between a few hours to 5 days to appear after infection.
Getting Cholera Under Control
Currently, cholera vaccines are available for children as young as 12 months old. Anyone above this age can get the vaccine by consulting their doctor at their local hospital or clinic.
Cholera can also be prevented through 5 cholera prevention messages provided by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC):
- Drink and use safe water. This means drinking only bottle water, using clean water to brush your teeth, make ice, prepare food, and wash utensils.
- Wash your hands often with soap and safe water.
- Using proper toilets. Do not defecate in any body of water.
- Cook food thoroughly. Also avoid raw foods other than fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself.
- Wash yourself, your children, diapers and clothes at least 30 meters away from drinking water sources.
WHO recommends that we use a two-pronged method, vaccines and these hygienic practices, to stop the spread of cholera.