The breeding ground for cholera is, among other things, contaminated drinking water and generally poor hygienic conditions when people have to live together in a confined space, such as in Mariupol, Ukraine, on the Azov Sea. Many sanitary facilities have been destroyed, food and drinking water are partially contaminated. Ideal conditions for cholera, a life-threatening infectious disease that can lead to death in the worst case.
What is cholera?
Cholera is an acute infection of the intestine. It is caused by the bacterium”Vibrio cholerae” and leads to watery diarrhea and vomiting. It can take a few hours to five days from the time of infection until the first signs of the disease appear (incubation period). About every tenth person who becomes infected with the pathogen develops the disease.
The first symptoms usually appear after two to three days. However, the disease is often harmless and there are no or only a few symptoms. In severe cases, however, cholera leads to a severe loss of water and electrolytes, i.e. salts. This can lead to life-threatening dehydration of the body.
How is cholera triggered?
The main cause of cholera is drinking water contaminated with faeces. In addition, transmission is also possible via contaminated food or objects. In rare cases, the disease can also be transmitted through direct contact with sick people.
Cholera occurs primarily in parts of Africa and Asia where there is no clean drinking water supply due to low hygiene standards. The risk of contracting cholera from malnutrition is particularly high. This also applies to people with a weak immune system and people with HIV infection. If a cholera infection remains untreated, it is fatal in up to 60 percent.
How can cholera diseases be prevented?
Access to clean drinking water is fundamental. In areas of increased risk, potentially contaminated water should be rendered harmless by boiling or using chlorine. Food must be boiled or fried. If the cleaning measures mentioned are not possible or too expensive, filtering water with the help of clothing or disinfection by exposure to sunlight can also help if necessary, the so-called SODIS (Solar Water Disinfection). It is particularly useful in hot countries. Water is filled into plastic bottles, placed in sunlight for around six hours and thus sterilized by UV-A radiation.
Another One way to prevent it is vaccination. It offers a 90 percent protection rate against cholera and lasts up to two years. After that, it needs to be refreshed by taking several pills.
How can a person infected with cholera be treated?
It is particularly important to regulate the water and electrolyte balance of infected patients. For this purpose, a drinking solution made from sugar, salt and other minerals that is produced with clean water is usually used. The WHO has developed a soluble powder with specified ingredients for the treatment of cholera, known as “WHO drinking solution‘ or ‘oral rehydration solution’. In severe cases, a solution can also be given directly into the blood via an IV.
Antibiotics can also be administered. Ultimately, however, a functioning infrastructure is required for treatment. But that no longer exists in large parts of Ukraine, and many hospitals and medical facilities have been destroyed.