Preventing Potentially Deadly Cholera
The acute intestinal infection from toxigenic Vibrio cholerae O1 is known as cholera. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of cholera include “profuse watery diarrhea, circulatory collapse, and shock.” Although many infections consist only of mild diarrhea, the CDC states that severe cases of cholera have a 25-50% fatality rate if left untreated.
Ingesting contaminated water or food with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae O1 leads to a cholera infection. Epidemics are usually linked to contaminated water sources, but occasionally, a person can become ill from eating raw or undercooked shellfish, for Vibrio naturally is found in warm, tropical waters (especially in the warmer months). Vibrio cholerae easily attach to the chitin of shellfish, so it is crucial to fully cook shellfish from waters suitable for Vibrio cholerae to grow.
In the U.S., there are very few cases of cholera, but traveling internationally still posed some risks. The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) advise travelers to areas of active cholera transmission to take the following protective measures:
- Drink only clean, sanitized water.
- Eat only fully cooked foods. Avoid raw foods including oysters from waters with Vibrio cholerae.
- Try to only eat fresh produce with protective skins like avocados, bananas, and oranges.
- In the case of a cholera infection, hydration is critical. Dehydration is one of the leading cause of death worldwide especially in children.
The WHO established the Global Task Force on Cholera Control to prevent and control cholera outbreaks. The task force is committed to providing efficient treatment through prompt administration of care. Care includes oral rehydration salts (to restore offset electrolyte balances) and intravenous fluids. Children under the age of five may also need zinc supplements to help reduce episode of diarrhea.
Note: Cholera is only one serotype/strain of Vibrio that leads to illnesses.