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Preventing Cholera Outbreaks

Cholera is a sudden, acute diarrheal illness cause by infection within the lower digestive tract.  The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3-5 million cases that claim the lives of over 100,000 people annually.  Cholera is often mild or with very minimal symptoms with a small percentage being severe.  Approximately 5 percent of people infected with cholera will have severe diarrhea, vomiting and cramping of the legs.

The mechanism of vomiting and diarrhea allows for rapid loss of bodily fluids that leads to severe dehydration.  Water is a component of every cell of the body and plays a role in every function.  Death can occur within hours without adequate amounts of water.

Where is Cholera Located?

The bacteria that causes cholera is found in the water and food that has been contaminated with human fecal matter.  Cholera is commonly found in locations that have poor sanitation, individuals with poor hygiene and inadequate water purification and treatment techniques.
You can also contract cholera from living by infested bodies of water such as rivers and coastal villages.  It has also been documented that you can get cholera from eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

How Do I Get Cholera?

You can only get cholera by drinking or eating food that is contaminated.  In many countries it is common for individuals to think that it transmittable from one person to another.  This is untrue; cholera cannot be transmitted through casual contact with an infected person.
Cholera will commonly spread rapidly due to shared meals and water that is contaminated.  Whole towns and villages can contract cholera from utilizing water from similar sources.  It is most common in times of drought or limited water supply in the dry season. 

When Do the Symptoms Appear?

The symptoms of cholera appear at different times and are dependent on the level of bacterial exposure and overall health of the infected individual.  A great amount of exposure can cause symptoms to appear within a few hours of infection.  Symptoms typically appear within 2-3 days after initial exposure. 
The overall health of the person plays a significant part in the outlook of the condition.  Severe complications can happen if a person has a depressed immune system, on medications, have a poor diet, physically inactive or have a variety of other health conditions. 

I Have Cholera, What Should I Do?

If you think you may have cholera, seek medical attention immediately.  The rapid loss of fluids from the vomiting and diarrhea can cause severe dehydration.  This level of dehydration commonly cannot be restored by simply drinking water.  The complicating factor is that you do not want to drink further contaminated water as well.  The source of contamination is commonly unknown.  

How is Cholera Diagnosed?

Cholera is commonly diagnosed with a detailed patient history that may red flag the cause of the condition.  To confirm the diagnosis a stool sample is taken and evaluated for the presence of the bacteria. 

Is There Treatment?

Cholera can be successfully treated with the replacement of fluids and minerals that were lost through vomiting and diarrhea.  An individual can be treated with an oral rehydration solution.  This solution is a precise mixture of sugar, salt and water that is needed for rapid re-hydration. 
Severe cases of cholera may require intravenous fluid replacement.  This is the most common form of treatment in the 5 percent of severe cases of vomiting, diarrhea and muscular cramping.  An individual without this form of re-hydration may cause the condition to be lethal.

Do Antibiotics Work?

Antibiotics have been used around the world for the treatment of cholera but have been found to be a secondary measure.  They may shorten the course of the condition, but without proper re-hydration the risk of death is elevated. 

Can I Avoid Getting Cholera?

The risk of developing cholera is lower for people that are indigenous to the region and use to poor environmental factors.  Severe alterations from the norm may cause an increased chance of developing the condition.  Examples may include traveling, poor health status and environmental factors such as droughts.

Observe The Following Recommendations

  • Drink only bottled, boiled, or purified water
  • Avoid tap water, carbonated drinks, and ice cubes.
  • Wash your hands with soap and clean water.
  • If no water and soap are available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Wash your hands especially before you eat or prepare food and after using the bathroom.
  • Use bottled, boiled, or purified water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, prepare food, or make ice.
  • Eat foods freshly cooked and served hot.
  • Do not eat raw and undercooked meats and seafood.
  • Dispose of feces to prevent contamination of water and food sources.

Do Lifestyle Factors Matter?

The human body is very resilient.  It is designed to identify, process, maintain and eliminate billions of hazardous items that can throw havoc on one’s health.  The primary objective is to maintain and increase this natural healing ability of the body.  Yes, exercise may not prevent you from drinking or eating contaminated food, but it will improve how you are able to respond to the condition.  If you are able to respond to the condition, you are less likely to have severe complications. 
The other important lifestyle indicators include improving mindset, balancing neurology, improving diet and eliminating toxins.   The body is connected physically, mentally and chemically.  Everything that we are exposed to in life requires a response by the body.  The important lifestyle indicators look to restore and ensure the body is able to respond to it’s fullest potential.
Walk, exercise or even doing gardening can improve immunity, improve blood circulation, stimulate appetite, reduce fat, and maintain healthy muscle tone. One should stop completely or significantly reduce consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol produces many health conditions and commonly dehydrates you further. Avoid coffee and tea when you are out with friends, instead drink water.

Reduce or eliminate sugars. Sugars have been shown to reduce your immune response. Eating enough proteins is one of the most important recommendations. Proteins such as lentils, beef, chicken, fish and eggs are perfect to help keep your weight up.

Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

Email: drcorycouillard@gmail.com
Facebook: Dr Cory Couillard
Twitter: DrCoryCouillard

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