“Cholera remains a threat to public health worldwide and an indicator of the lack of equity and insufficient social development”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And for good reason, this infectious disease is endemic in many developing countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, where it persists and continues to claim victims. Each year 1.3 to 4 million cases of cholera are recorded and 21,000 to 143,000 deaths due to this pathology are recorded worldwide, according to WHO estimates.

What is cholera?

Cholera is an acute infection of the small intestine. It is caused by the bacillus or gram-negative bacteria Vibrio cholerae. In the intestines, the bacillus secretes a toxin that causes watery, profuse diarrhea. If treatment is not given promptly, diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration or even death. This virulent disease affects children as well as adults. However, older people, young children and people with weak immune systems are at greater risk of cholera. “Mortality is higher among children, the elderly and vulnerable individuals”, specifies Public Health France.

Transmission: how do you catch cholera?

Cholera is spread through water or food contaminated with the bacteria. The stools of people with this symptomatic or asymptomatic infection are released in large quantities. The result: the feces spread the bacteria in the environment and can potentially infect other people. Transmission between humans is unlikely because a large sample of microorganisms is needed to transmit the infection.

Once the bacillus has been ingested, the incubation period, ie the time between infection and the appearance of the first symptoms of the disease, varies between 12 hours and five days.

“The main factors favoring the transmission of infection are the socio-economic level and the living conditions of the populations. The high population concentrations associated with poor hygiene play an important role in the appearance and development of an epidemic. cholera “, indicates the Institut Pasteur.

What are the symptoms of cholera?

Most infected people have no symptoms of cholera, although the bacteria can be detected in their stools for one to two weeks. In the event of illness, 80 to 90% of cases are mild or not very severe. Symptoms of cholera occur in less than 25% of infected patients, and 10-20% of them report severe illness.

The infection manifests itself by:

  • Violent diarrhea abundant in “rice water”
  • Vomitings
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Severe dehydration that is accompanied by sunken eyes, lack of energy, dry mouth, wrinkled feet, and cold, clammy skin

Cholera: how to diagnose it?

If one suffers from these symptoms, especially severe and sudden diarrhea, it is advisable to immediately consult your doctor so that he can make a quick diagnosis. To confirm the diagnosis, the bacteria should be identified Vibrio cholerae in the stool of the infected patient. “Mild cases of cholera can be mistaken for other causes of gastroenteritis, such as infections with Escherichia coli and rotavirus”, details the Orphanet.

What are the treatments for cholera?

The majority of patients with cholera can recover quickly. The treatment of this infectious disease is mainly based on rehydration with oral solutions containing salt and glucose or solutions based on rice or isotonic intravenously. This treatment compensates for digestive losses of water and electrolytes. In this case, the patient’s condition improves after a few hours, and recovery is achieved within a few days.

In more severe cases, patients may be prescribed antibiotics to reduce the duration of diarrhea and to shorten the time that bacteria are excreted in their stools. According to Orphanet, an energetic diet should be administered as soon as dehydration is corrected to avoid malnutrition and complications.

“Zinc is an important adjunct therapy in children under 5, which also shortens the duration of diarrhea and may prevent subsequent episodes of acute watery diarrhea due to other causes.”, says the WHO.

Currently, two oral vaccines are available to prevent cholera. However, their duration is limited in time. They would protect against the disease for 2 to 3 years.

Cholera: how to prevent it?

To avoid contracting cholera, it is advisable to take some precautions and to respect the basic rules of hygiene. When traveling to endemic areas, always eat well-cooked food, drink capped or boiled bottled water, and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.

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