Five people in Maharashtra’s Amravati have reportedly died from cholera, a water-borne disease that has further affected over 150 patients. According to the Government of India’s National Health Portal (NHP), cholera is an intestinal infection that is caused when a person consumes contaminated food or water.

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Causes

According to NHP, cholera is generally caused by the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae. The cholera bacteria are generally found in water or food sources that have been contaminated by faeces from a person infected with cholera. Cholera is usually seen in places with inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene.

The cholera bacterium may also live in the environment in salty rivers and coastal waters. According to World Health Organization (WHO), it takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water. WHO states that cholera affects both children and adults and can be fatal if left untreated.

Dr Vikrant Shah, consulting physician, intensivist, and infection disease specialist, Zen Multispeciality Hospital Chembur, said one may even get cholera by consuming vegetables that have been grown with the use of water with human wastes, eating contaminated seafood, and even from foods that affect the digestive system.

Symptoms

After contamination, the bacteria produce an enterotoxin that causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death, if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients, NHP statement reads on its website.

Concurring, Dr Shah said that there can be a “wide range of symptoms”. “High fever, unintentional weight loss, increased thirst, nausea, vomiting, bloating, low blood pressure, loss of elasticity of the skin, cramping, a rapid increase in heart rate, dryness in mouth and nose, and undigested materials in the stool can also indicate cholera,” he said.

Who’s at risk?

People with low levels of stomach acid like older adults, children, people who take antacids, are at risk as they lack the necessary protection, said Dr Farah Ingale, director-internal medicine, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi.

According to NHP, it is generally caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Treatment

The treatment for cholera is based on the replacement of lost fluid and electrolytes, said Dr Shah. “Drinking plenty of ORS (oral rehydration solution) will be suggested by the treating doctor. If the condition worsens, intravenous fluid replacement may be required, too. Doctors may also recommend antibiotics and zinc supplements to help one manage diarrhoea,” he added.

Prevention

To keep cholera at bay, drink boiled water, stay away from raw foods, and avoid dairy products. “Wash your hands before eating, and drink enough water to stay hydrated — these are both equally important,” he said.

Avoid uncooked or uncovered food when eating outside, added Dr Trupti Gilada, infectious disease specialist, Masina Hospital.

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